More children and youth need a mentor

Greek mythology contains a lot of knowledge. The story of the hero Odysseus, who entrusts his young son Telemachos to Mentor – an older, reliable and wise man from the island of Ithaca – when Odysseus sets off for the Trojan War. Mentor’s task is to form and advise the young Telemachus while his father is at war. Mentor is far superior to Telemachus in terms of both knowledge and experience.

A mentor is an experienced and knowledgeable person who voluntarily makes himself available to enter into a dialogue with a younger person who needs direction and meaning in life. According to Greek mythology, a mentor is neither a family member – mother, father, grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle – nor a psychologist, social worker, coach or agent. A mentor is also not an idol or an influencer who spreads certain messages, products or brands via social media.

Everyday life, life and the world can seem unmanageable and chaotic for anyone – including for Danish children and youth. All children and youth need to enter into positive, social communities in their leisure time, such as a music band, a scout group, a homework cafe or a sports club. I believe that more children and youth need a volunteer mentor, and this can be found in a sports club as well as in other everyday contexts.

The mentor must ask in-depth and critical questions

Studies from research institutions point unequivocally to children and youth who do not go to leisure activities, often feel stressed, have less desire to go to school, have more symptoms of dissatisfaction and have lower self-esteem than children and youth who go weekly for leisure activities.

There are extremely rarely simple answers and simple solutions to difficult questions and complex problems. Personally, I believe that children and youth, both those who are included and especially those who are excluded from positive, social communities in their leisure time, can greatly benefit and enjoy a mentor. In other words, advice from a knowledgeable and experienced person who can and will provide presence and conversations with the child and youth, both when “everything goes well” and when life “really hurts”. Because the specific everyday life and life in general are not just victories and defeats or black and white colors. The mentor must therefore function as a “living and movable wall” against which the child and youth can “play ball”. And the mentor must, to a large extent, ask in-depth and critical questions, which can give the child or youth reason for reflection, thoughts, reflections and dreams.

Most people will probably think that the function of educator, guide and adviser can be solved either with care by the child and the youth’s parents, with professional competence of pedagogues, teachers and social workers or with professional knowledge of coaches and managers. However, I believe that a mentor can greatly contribute to creating a coherent and meaningful everyday life in relation to everyone else who is close to the child and youth.

No list of facts, but good advice as a mentor

There is no definitive list of what qualities a mentor should possess. But let me make an offer anyway.

First, the mentor must be reliable and trustworthy. This means that the child and youth must be able to trust the mentor’s words and actions. And not least that there is agreement between words and actions. Likewise, the mentor must describe reality as it is to the best of his ability. And not how the child or youth could wish or dream for it to be.

Second, the mentor must be patient and persistent. It is of course acceptable that children and youth make mistakes and make “wrong” decisions – just like adults and the elderly do. Likewise, mistakes and wrong decisions can be multiple and frequent. Recognition and learning for children and youth is often a lengthy and difficult process – also for the adults who are closest to them.

And thirdly – but most importantly – the mentor must be critical and constructive. Children and youth have to make a number of choices every day, and often far too early in my opinion – essential choices, which can both be optional or opt-out with major consequences. The mentor’s task here is to ask critical and nuanced questions, which cause the child or youth to think about the advantages and disadvantages of the individual choices. If the child or young person seeks advice from a mentor, it is always the latter’s task to point to constructive answers and solutions. Just as Odysseus did with Mentor so that Telemachos could be formed and developed.