When people think about mentoring a child, they normally consider all the positive benefits that the child will receive from the relationship – and rightfully so. The children that we support gain a trusted adult, someone who will always listen, and opportunities to experience new things, all at a time in their life when it is truly needed.
But what’s so easy to overlook is that what we strive for is not simply a mentoring relationship, but a genuine friendship. If you take a moment to reflect on the strongest friendships in your own life, you’ll quickly notice that it’s a two-way street. True friendships benefit both people because they share their skills, experiences, and wisdom with each other. It’s that give and take, where each person contributes and also benefits, that builds a quality friendship over time.
We love to hear about the benefits that our mentors receive, because it tells us that they are building a real friendship with the child they support. Here are a couple real life examples* from some of our mentors:
Rick’s default mode is on the sofa watching TV, so being a mentor has challenged him to be more creative and think of fun things to do with a child. Being friends with a child has encouraged him to push his boundaries and try things that are outside his comfort zone. For example, when they went to a local funfair, the child wanted to go on all the rides. Rick does not like going on rides, but he agreed to because he wanted his friend to have fun. Rick’s friend ended up supporting him through the day, and in the end they both had a great time. For Rick, he says that the most rewarding part of the friendship has been the “undramatic, quiet progress of the match”. He’s “enjoying the new experiences”, and he feels like it is “time well spent”.
Harry became a mentor to make an impression on a young person, let him explore his interests, and help him to have some fun; Harry didn’t expect that he would be getting those same things back from his young friend. You can imagine his partner’s surprise when he told her that he wanted to get an aquarium “because Joe has a fishtank and it’s really cool”. Harry fixed himself up with a 90 litre tank and got started. With a little help from his friend, Harry got some fake plants, a log so they would have “somewhere to hide”, and the right substrate mix so that he wouldn’t injure the bottom feeders. Harry doesn’t have any fish in the tank yet (he’s sorting out his ammonia and nitrate levels, of course), but at least he and his friend can compare pH levels for the time being.
Like Rick and Harry, many of our mentors are inspired, supported and have their eyes opened by the young person they support. That’s wonderful for the mentor but also great for the child too. We all need to feel that we are valued in a friendship and that we bring value to it. Knowing that they’ve inspired or supported their mentor really helps children to know that they’re taken seriously by them, and that simple knowledge can, in turn, do wonders for their self-esteem.
*True stories, fake names.