Judging from the reaction (here at Patch and on Facebook) regarding my story last week, !
When someone invests in us, we remember. Forever.
If it takes a community to raise a child (even if it is the parents’ primary
responsibility) then mentors are invaluable. We need to help our kids discern whom to trust.
What criteria do we have?
No list is exhaustive or “foolproof," but here’s a start:
Trustworthy Mentors Lead Kids Toward, not away from, Parents
The male teacher whom I came to trust led me toward my parents. A trustworthy leader will never try to lead a child away from her parents. He respects the parents’ role in the child’s life and willingly takes a back seat.
Even in cases where a child comes from an abusive environment, a trustworthy mentor does not shy away from the parent who needs positive influences in his/her life. If the a child needs help out of a harmful situation or guidance in putting boundaries in place (for protection), a true mentor seeks to understand all sides of the situation and make whatever difference he can in the collective lives of the family members. This could mean finding assistance from social agencies, protecting the child in the process.
A mentor in a tough situation like this will lead a child’s heart toward
emotional connection, coping with justified anger, and understanding the power of forgiveness. He models compassion and leads a child to a place of extending grace, without condoning the parent’s wrong actions. The wise mentor never fosters emotional distance or disdain.
Trustworthy Mentors are Part of a Team
Several years ago, a girl in my church struggled with emotional issues that were affecting her physical health. As a leader of our youth group, I spent time with this teen. I talked to her, prayed with and for her and wondered if she would ever get well. In time, she did, through spiritual discovery and breakthrough, as well as much hard work on her part, delving into core issues.
Today, she is a youth intern at our church. She is one of the most vibrant, beautiful young women I know, and she literally pours herself into the lives of teen girls, including my own daughter.
It’s funny how things come full circle.
One of the reasons I have so much respect for her as a mentor is that she is truly a team player.
Recently, I called Gina to let her know about a rule I had established with my daughter regarding honoring commitments. Gina immediately said that she would support it, making sure that she never took my daughter away from standing commitments.
Gina is an important part of my daughter’s life, but she is also a valued part of our family’s life. We all feel comfort in her presence.
Trustworthy Mentors are Part of a Community
Just as youth interns/leaders are part of the church community, most mentors are a part of some community where they are trusted, respected and loved. Youth pastors, teachers, YMCA program workers, coaches…
Today, adult leaders are subject to background checks. A trustworthy mentor understands being “put to the test.” If there are concerns based on the person’s past, he/she takes responsibility and does not deny what happened. He also willingly accepts boundaries that must be put in place due to those issues.
Trustworthy Mentors don’t Pretend to be Perfect
Sometimes trustworthy mentors make mistakes, as with the teacher whose words hurt me. Strangely, my worst experience with a teacher gave way to my best, all on the same day. Both situations taught me about compassion.
The situation with the offending teacher was my worst interaction with a teacher, but that does not mean she was my worst teacher. On the contrary, she was a very good teacher…who was having a bad day. Though what she did stuck with me, much good came from it.
When I began my teaching career, I discovered how difficult it is to hold your tongue under pressure. I can extend grace to my teacher, because of my own "bad days," when I’ve hurt students. Though I try to weigh my words carefully, I sometimes fail.
Though I don’t recall my teacher apologizing, I forgave her. In fact, I have great respect for this teacher, whose course content helped shape my life as a writer and teacher. In that way, she has had multiple influences on this article!
A mentor who is aware of an offense should apologize. I’m not talking about discipline that is just. Mr. Fetters sometimes spoke harshly (as evidenced in last week’s comments!). When we deserved it, we knew it. We also knew he cared. He made us want to do better, and we did.
But when actions are unjust, we should apologize. Those who humble themselves before a child will be exalted in that child’s eyes.
Trustworthy Mentors Extend Forgiveness
Kids hurt mentors, too. Within the last month, on four separate occasions, high school students came to me apologizing for behavior. They did this without prompting (except from their conscience). This surprised me, but I was even more taken aback by their reactions to: “I forgive you.”
There’s power in those words.
Trustworthy Mentors Make Parents and Kids Feel Comfortable
The final word: as a parent, you know when you feel comfortable with someone who is part of your child’s life. If a mentor makes you or your child feel uncomfortable in any way, it is your call to disallow that person’s presence. Rely on intellect, gut level responses, prayer and discernment to exercise good judgment about who will influence your child’s life. Then assume your place as the captain of the team that is raising your child.