My mentee moved away. The girl I mentored through the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen, a vibrant eighth grader moved to Central Texas. I miss her and our face to face interaction, but she contacts me more than she did when she lived here. It has been a blessing to support her in her transition to make friends and get settled in a new town. I have learned that the greatest support she needs is a loving, listening ear. However, listening can be a passive support or an active one. Allow me to share an example of supporting Ana actively.
It involves listening for the “teachable moment” and seizing it to share values.
Ana is an active, bright young lady but often “found herself in trouble” with bad behavior at school. She was frequently sassy (talking back) to teachers and then suffering the consequences in detention. At home Ana did the same with her parents and was grounded for it or placed on some kind of restriction. She and I both hoped a fresh start would give her an opportunity to relate differently to others from the start.
One evening while Ana and I were talking and texting, she told me she couldn’t wait till volleyball season was over. She had signed up for the volleyball team at her new school. The season was almost over with just three games to go.
I said, “Really? But you love volleyball.”
She replied, “Yes, but the coach never let’s me play! I don’t like her.”
I asked, “Why don’t you like her?”
“I told you,” insisted Ana. “She doesn’t let me play.”
Even though she was getting a little sassy with me, I didn’t take the bait. I simply asked. “Why isn’t she letting you play, Ana? I know you are a good player.”
“She let’s other girls play that don’t have as good a game as I do,” snapped Ana.
“And why do you think that is Ana?” My consistent patient questions communicated to her that I was interested in her world which is a form of active listening without assuming that I automatically understood her meaning.
Ana finally came clean and gave a more honest response. “She has me benched because if I am not playing then I’m getting into trouble by talking with the other girls, not keeping score or wandering around. I have to be playing to stay out of trouble!”
“Oh, I see,” I responded. Then I suggested she do with her coach and teacher what she had just done with me. I said, “Why don’t you come clean with your teacher and ask her what you can do to play. Tell her you have a problem with down time on the bench. Tell her it is easy for you to get distracted and very tough for you to sit still. Ask her if there is something you can do, to win her trust again.”
Ana said, “No, she’ll get mad at me.”
I said, “Ana she’s already mad at you for misbehaving. Maybe if you share with her that you are willing to work on it, things could be different the last three games.”
Ana pondered my honesty is the best policy approach but she then came up with her own solution, the most straight forward solution.
She said, “No, I just need to behave, not get distracted and maybe she will let me play the last few games.”
I said, “Sounds like a plan!”
What I like about this conversation was that Ana took responsibility for her own behavior. She first started blaming the teacher for her situation and later owned that it was her own behavior that was setting her up to not get what she wanted as a volleyball starter.
By listening and asking probing questions I played the role of supportive friend and not an authority figure. Ana came to her own determination about what would work to get her to be able to play volleyball for her team again. I didn’t have to preach or scold. All I did was be the caring friend that gently confronted her frustration about not playing as a starter for volleyball. By actively listening, I figuratively held up a mirror for Ana to see her own behavior and how it was not serving her well.
When kids come to their own conclusions, they learn people skills and problem solving skills that help them grow into caring, responsible and productive citizens. The role of the mentor is to be a caring supportive adult, not an authoritarian judgmental adult. In so doing, mentors serve as a safe relationship to work out issues about how to relate in the world. Research in the mentoring field shows that mentor — mentee relationships that have the greatest positive impact are youth (mentee) driven.
My Ana shows a high degree of insight into her own behavior and demonstrates that she wants to change. I will be there for her to remind her that it is worth it to do the hard work of earning positive attention. I will actively listen.
You can volunteer to mentor too. Please call the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen, (956) 682-5791 or visit www.begreatmcallen.org.
Laura Reagan-Porras is a sociologist and the Chief Professional Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. She can be reached for question or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or (956) 682-5791.