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Everyday mentors and village people

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by Robin Dance

Married over half her life to her college sweetheart, Robin's guilty pleasure is Reddi Wip from the can. Mom to three, she's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea. Follow her on Twitter. Her beautiful new blog robindance.me is a must-see.

I was a bystander this time, an observer, learning a lesson again I am so quick to forget:

Words are powerful and persuasive and have the capacity to change lives.

I know this, I even live it, but watching and witnessing a relative stranger speak wisdom into my teen son’s life, I saw it fresh, new.  The conversation’s effect was palpable–you could almost see wheels turning in my boy’s head.

We were at the periodontist’s office, a consultation for upcoming dental surgery.  Because Dr. M had treated my daughter a few years ago, we were already acquainted.  I remembered how much I appreciated his chair-side manner, but I had forgotten how likeable and engaging he was.

Dr. M, cordial but professional to me, directed his attention toward my son.  Thomas was wearing clothes for soccer, since he’d leave his appointment and go straight to practice. 

Dr. M noticed and asked him about his season; and not just his season, but details – his position, their record, what the competition looked like.  He shared brief stories about his high school experiences and what his three daughters preferred.

He asked about his college plans, where he’d room, if he planned on pledging a fraternity, about his extracurricular interests.  “I studied like crazy those first three years,” he began, “and I did ev-ry-thing.”  School.  Student government.  Intramurals.  Fraternity.  School.  The way I heard it, Dr. M maximized his college experience with a proper respect for prioritizing the important things, activities that would serve him well.

His enthusiasm and sincerity sold a convincing message:

Play hard but work harder; make wise choices; have an end goal in mind.

He made it sound downright cool to study.  Remarkable.

Under fluffy clouds of optimism, enthusiasm, and genuine interest, his questions fell like rain, one after another after another.  Somehow he managed to shotgun questions without it feeling like an assault.

I recall two years ago when my daughter was a high school senior, how defeating it would feel when someone…everyone…would ask, “Have you decided where you’re going to college?”, always accompanied by, “What do you want to major in?” 

Both are dreaded questions if you don’t have ready answers.  Those choosing work, military service, or a gap year have variations of similar questions to answer.  Seniors must hear these questions a thousand times a thousand.

How in the world at 18 can you be sure what you want to do for the next 50 years?!

mentor
Photo by Wonderlane

Dr. M casually asked Thomas if he had considered the dental field.  He shared the upside to his specialty (“…you aren’t on call that often…”) and his philosophy of service (“Work together with your patients, tell ‘em the truth, give them a reasonable price…”). In our town, others charge more for the same services Dr. M provides; but I’m convinced we’re receiving premium care and quality for a lesser amount!

Thomas left there considering a field of study he had never before considered, and more than that, he believed he had what it would take to accomplish success.

Now, I don’t know whether or not he’ll become a periodontist, but that’s beside my point.  Actually, there are two, and I’ll share them by way of a challenge for all of us:

Be an active part of the Village

  • Be an “everyday mentor” to the teens in your life.   Realize the power of your words – not just how they can hurt or heal, but how they have the capacity to call a young person to action.  There are a lot of negative voices in their lives (overworked teachers, critical coaches, frustrated parents, fickle friends, cruel classmates…and their own inner demons), so with careful intention (be careful not to preach!), sow light and hope and dreams into their thinking.

Surround your child with Village People

  • The example I’ve shared with you happened on its own, but it served as strong reminder to seek out other trusted adults to support our parenting goals.  In 9th grade, my son’s school required an unrelated mentor to meet regularly with students.  We remained in contact and expressed any issues we wanted reinforced by an “outside” voice.  It’s amazing how well teenagers will accept something as gospel spoken by anyone but their own parent. 

My baby boy will graduate in just a few weeks.  Though I’m sure he hopes he’ll be showered with lots of gifts, I’m certain that the kind of investment his mentor has made in a big way, and Dr. M recently made in a small way, will be gifts he’ll carry for the rest of his life.

Those are the best gifts we can give, yes?

Can you think of a person who had this kind of effect in your life?  What did they say or do that changed your future?  Will you accept my challenge to find ways, large or small, to impact the teenagers in your sphere?  Whether your children or children of friends, you have the capacity to change the entire world through an investment and encouragement to a few.

(If you’re looking for graduation gift ideas, here’s an awesome list I compiled based on my kids’ and their friends’ suggestions a while back, affiliate links included for some.)
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Comments

  1. This is a great idea, Robin. I’ve never thought of it as something I should be doing. You’ve got me thinking now…

    • Southern Gal,

      I wish I could have videoed what I was watching unfold; the way my son engaged, lit up, started contemplating something he never had…remarkable. It convicted me (in a good way) to be VERY intentional with those around me. Especially when I see a gift/talent that “needs” to be called out, noticed, challenged.

      That you’re thinkin’ more about this makes me so glad I wrote it!

  2. That is an awesome experience…….I encourage you to share your appreciation with Dr M. As a nurse, it always inspires me to know when someone feels that I am helping and making a difference. I don’t need constant adoration but I sure do LOVE knowing I am reaching people and that my efforts are noticed…

  3. LeShea,

    I had planned to (discreetly) but it’s GOOD to know that that kind of thing matters to you by way of example. Think about this: for everyone who TELLS you, there must be bunches more who think it but don’t say anything :). That’s a fun/encouraging idea!!

    • First, I LOVE this! It is truly an answer to prayer when men take the time to speak in to my sons’ lives…..2 of them have worked for the same boss and he has been a BLESSING!

      Secondly, last year I went to my annual exam and was just cared for really well by the entire staff. The visit was thorough but efficient and the time well managed….all the while by super pleasant people. I felt impressed to send a note to the doctor about the folks he had working for him. When I went back this year, imagine my surprise to see my note tucked in to my file!

  4. What a sweet story! Encourages me to be intentional to invest in the (few :)) teenagers in my life.

  5. Robin, I’m always a little leary of talking about it takes a village to raise a child since in this day and age it’s too often used to let parents off the hook and turn to schools and gov’t programs to pick up the slack.

    But your story hits the nail on the head. I’ve also noticed how things have shifted for every adult feeling responsibility for every child, to a growing insularity. Kids were safe playing in the neighborhood a few generations ago because every parent kept an eye out – even it it wasn’t your kid outside on the street.

    My husband is terrific in stepping in and giving children we know some much-needed serious wisdom in today’s day drought of it. I’m slowly gaining some confidence in it, especially when I watch my daughters’ classmates in HS with so little structure and advice to respect themselves. Glad to hear about this story. It encourages me to take my role as a mentor to all children – not just my kids – much more seriously!

    • Sarah,

      I understand your reluctance to “it takes a village” speak; depending on what people mean, I might agree. I never mean it in the sense of giving parents permission to take a back seat role; rather for all of us to companion one another with an end goal in mind. Obviously, you understood my perspective and THREE CHEERS FOR YOU as you gain confidence to seek out and speak into teens who are desperate for it!

      • avatar
        maryann says:

        I’m not ashamed to admit that a village is raising my children. We need all the help we can get, and I’m more than appreciative of the diverse adults and experiences that my sons are exposed to. It has made them very independent.
        @ sarah, I treat other teens the way I would treat my own – I have always said “mom to one, mom to all.” :)

  6. My husband and I have been doing the same thing with the teenagers in our neighborhood, who we often feel are just lost. We can remember how hard it was to find direction at that time so we gently encourage their interests and talents, try to boost self-confidence, and instill in them the idea that college is the first start to a better life. We live in a neighborhood where many parents have not gone to college so we are not sure these kids are hearing what we’re saying from anyone else.

  7. Hmmm. I came over here because I love this post, but I guess I don’t really have anything to add. I’ve had this same conversation (about adults other than kids’ parents need to be a positive influence) several times recently, so this really resonates with what’s on my heart these days. That’s all, I guess. :)

  8. Awesome. My two children are still under two, but I definitely want them to have these kinds of mentors in their life!

    After I graduated high school, I had a conversation like the one your son had with his doctor that literally changed my life. I was a very good student, and I was particularly gifted and passionate about literature, but I had applied for, and gotten into, a highly competitive program in radiological science (because it was “more practical”).

    The conversation I had was with my senior English teacher’s husband (random, I know). I told him how I loved literature, but I didn’t want to “waste” my education on a “worthless degree.” He told me that no education was wasted or worthless unless I made it so, and then told me a story from his childhood. There was a mother in the neighborhood who had a degree in science. She was a stay-at-home-mother, but he remembered in detail how she would teach the neighborhood kids about nature and the parts of a leaf and what an impact those lessons had on him as a kid.

    As a result of this insight, I switched majors at the eleventh hour. It still makes me a feel a little sick to my stomach thinking about the number of people I disappointed, but I did the right thing. I did very well in college and have had jobs in both education and writing that I do from home as a result of my English background, which is invaluable to me as a mother with babies.

    Anyway, that ended up being a bit long, but when I read your post I immediately thought “Just like Mr. Hunter!” from my experience. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hope,

      I LOVE YOUR STORY! It’s a wonderful example of this very thing! Thank you for taking time to share a different version of the identical message :).

  9. I can remember those key moments during my awkward and painful teen years when another parent or teacher noticed me, noticed a gift or ability and then said something to me about it. I can’t help but think that all children (and teens) just want to be seen by someone, and when that person takes the time to talk TO them and listen TO them, as opposed to preaching at them or lecturing, it’s a huge boost during those fragile years..

    I think the greatest gift any adult – parent or not – can give a child or teen is the gift of attention and time.

  10. avatar
    Beth Williams says:

    My pastor’s wife does that with the youth of our church. She is such a great mentor and friend to them.

    We need more village people to mentor and assist our youth & teens with life. Give them encouragement and be supportive of them and their goals!

  11. My mom prayed that there would always be a wise mentor in my life that I felt comfortable talking with- even if didn’t feel like divulging my heart to her. And I’m grateful God answered her prayers. I’ve already started praying that for my preschool girls! My mentor taught me to “accept the blessing.” Little did she know I’d grow up to be “poor” youth pastor’s wife, living far from family, who has to humbly let others bless me!

  12. I read this last night, but I’ve found it coming to mind throughout the day…and my baby is only two. I look forward to trying to be a “village person” for teens I know, and I’ll start praying for such in my son’s life.

  13. thank for sharing mr.. i like your post.. because, your post is very-very good…

  14. I love this note…I love this idea, but it is something I struggle with. I can click with young kids and babies and adults, but I don’t click with teens, and I don’t even know where to start. I think I need to find a book for summer reading on that…

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