When I was a teenager and young adult, my relationships with adults guided me through the most difficult times. I recall spending free periods in my favorite teacher’s classroom chatting about the difficulties of gossip, relationships and peer pressure, when having trouble with my parents it was one of my best friend’s mom who supported me through my process of individuation, and in college some of my favorite conversations were outside of the classroom with professors sharing about our lives or with my friend’s parents over family weekend. Relationships with parents are challenging during this phase of life, and supportive non-parent adults can be powerful as well as enhance the quality and course of a life.
Researchers at the Search Institute identified supportive relationships with three or more non-parent adult role models who value a youth is essential to that youth’s well-being and health. In our every changing fast-paced technological world, which have led to vastly different parenting models and family system dynamic than just one generation ago, youth are experiencing more isolation. Thus, young people are not forming connections with caring adults outside of the family system. Furthermore, intergenerational contact has changed so much that it reduces the availability of caring adults while changes in economy, social and cultural conditions have increased vulnerability to challenges in life. This is a huge loss for all people, young and old!
Mentorship is needed more than ever. So, what is a Mentor? The etymology of the world translates as “Wise advisor” from the Greek Mentor, advisor to Telemachus (son of Odysseus). The root of the word comes from mentos, meaning spirit, purpose, intent, passion. Odysseus left home when Telemachus was an infant, thus Telemachus, from his youth into his twenties, was instructed by Mentor, often seen as a disguised Athena (Goddess of Wisdom, Courage, and Inspiration as well as Strength, Strategy and Skill) to gain knowledge of his father. The stories he learns are complementary yet often contradictory. Telemachus comes into his power when his father is truly revealed to him through Athena’s guidance; only then, Telemachus begins his heroic journey, with the knowing of how how his heroic nature is ever present in him.
Telemachus through his Mentor/Athena began to understand his own strength, courage and wisdom through the learning of the world his father navigated. But he did not learn this directly through his father. Mostly he learned this through the sharing of stories from others. Telemachus through this story sharing experience and guidance, integrated and developed this heroic internal Self, in order to develop more fully into who he is and live into his own unique heroic journey.
Mentorship matters! The support and witnessing of an adult improves a sense of health and well-bing, self-image and self-worth, and sense of feeling valued and appreciated. A mentor supports feelings of competence and accomplishment, and encourages spiritual fulfillment. An adult in a young person’s life can help that young person gain perspective and deeper insight into their experiences. Meanwhile, mentors learn from the youth, this is how human beings evolve, through the listening to young people as they speak about the changing world, the new ideas that arise through them are imperative for our evolution. And furthermore, mentors learn about their lives through the lives of young people. In the sharing of stories, in the knowing someone has your back and understands you without any agenda or alter-motive, in the feeling that someone truly wants to spend time with you and embrace who you are, there is growth in all directions. There is a reciprocity and intergenerational connection that occurs and contributes to society in a very important and meaningful way. This is what brings back a sense of how we contribute to the world, through purpose, passion, and intent! Young people need this, Adults need this, The world needs this.