11 to 14: Mentoring

Mentoring your child to support and encourage desired behaviors

Now consider this example of parents being mentors. As you read, think about these questions:

  • Are these parents being thoughtful mentors?
  • Are the parents being honest about themselves?
  • Are they judging their child?
  • How might you handle a similar situation with your child?
Alexander, Masha, and Greg (Age 12)1,3,13

What's the Story?

Greg has been having a hard time with school lately. He's always been an able student, getting good grades and doing other activities, like playing his guitar. But since he started sixth grade, he's been having trouble, mostly in his math class. Even though he does all his homework and studies for the tests, he just isn't doing as well as he used to. In spite of help he gets from his stepmother, Masha, Greg's grade hasn't improved. To try and take his mind off his grade, Greg has been playing his guitar at night after working with Masha on his homework. When Greg brought home a "C" in math on his report card, his father, Alexander, punished him by taking his guitar away.

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Alexander Says:

He isn't applying himself. When I was in school, I wasn't allowed to do any after-school activities. I had to come home from school and study and that's it. And I never got a "C." If he spent less time playing that guitar and more time on his studies, he could get better grades.

Masha Says:

I don't know why Alexander won't listen to me. I've tried to talk to him about this, about the fact that Greg is trying really hard, but he just won't listen. I told him I didn't agree with punishing Greg for his grade, but he did it any way. To Alexander, the effort isn't important, just the end result. Besides, how will Greg learn to balance school and other things if he's not allowed to do any other things?

What's the Point?

Alexander may want to rethink his actions in this case. First, he isn't listening to Masha. Parenting is about talking, listening, and most of all, compromising. These concepts apply regardless of the living arrangements. Parents need to work together to make decisions about the children they are raising. How Alexander interacts with Masha influences how Greg views his stepmother and how he treats her. As Greg's mentor, Alexander should respect Masha's opinion and her input into parenting decisions. Otherwise, Greg may think it's acceptable to ignore Masha's opinions and input as well.
Secondly, Alexander isn't recognizing Greg's efforts. Greg chose to work very hard to try and do well in the class; he also chose not to quit and not to blame anyone else for his grade. These choices show strength, maturity, and determination. As Greg's mentor, Alexander should value Greg's hard work and let Greg know that he values it. Alexander should also support Greg's decision to keep trying in spite of the outcome. By putting so much weight on the end result (the grade), Alexander could prevent Greg from learning that it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. His persistence and effort should be applauded.

Without knowing it, Alexander is also sending a message that he doesn't believe in Greg's ability to do well. He doesn't expect Greg to be able to handle both playing guitar and school; he expects Greg to fail. What parents expect from their kids affects how much their kids achieve. With his father's message in mind, Greg may assume that he is going to fail without even trying. Even though Alexander is trying to drive Greg to do better, this hidden message could lead Greg to give up instead.

Masha's point about balance is a good one, too. Kids (and adults) have to learn how to fit many things into their lives. Limiting Greg's activities also limits his practice of doing many things at once by making him do only one thing at a time. Even Alexander will agree that life usually gives us a number of challenges at once. This is a lesson that Greg is better off learning when he is younger.

Kids aren't always going to succeed; they won't always get the best grades; they won't win every race. Sometimes, your child may need help from someone other than you, like from a tutor or a special teacher. As your child's mentor, you need to support your child's desire to try and his or her effort to succeed, no matter what the outcome.

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