The Greatest Gift of All

(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)

We’re all mentors. Whether we’re parents, legal guardians, coaches, teachers or friends, we all have a responsibility to provide support, consistency, guidance and encouragement to the young people in our lives. It can be an overwhelming concept, if you truly think about it, to be the role model for a vulnerable young person, but it shouldn’t be.

At this special time of year, we, at LEAP Foundation DC, are grateful for the young people who trust us to be a part of their lives. We consider the young men and women who participate in our programming to be the greatest gifts of all and we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to provide leadership as they face difficult times and also celebrate successes.

We have discovered that the trick to connecting with youth begins with recognizing that they not only ARE the gift, but they have incredible gifts to offer. When we begin to recognize the unique qualities and offerings that each young person can offer, we are truly able to nurture a relationship that cultivates the unique talents and skills of our future leaders.

Here are a few ways we have been successful in our mentorship opportunities:

G – Give to them what you expect to receive. Parents of teens often reach a point where they know longer feel like they “know” the young person in their life. Raised voices, slamming doors, loss of trust – it’s all part of the territory. But in that difficult time is an opportunity to allow the relationship to reach a natural phase of mutual respect. Work on having open conversations, share a thing or two about your own past mistakes, provide encouraging words and understand that we have all made poor decisions in life.

I – Inspire your youth to be confident. We simply cannot reach success without confidence. A day in the life of a teen means facing peer pressure, making comparisons, feeling inadequate and, in reality, messing up a time or two. Be there to pick up the pieces. Be there as a reminder of all the incredible and unique qualities the youth has to offer and don’t let him think for a moment that he isn’t capable of making independent decisions, saying no and bouncing back when a set back occurs.

F – Figure it out together. Advice to a vulnerable teen can sometimes feel like criticism. It’s important to share the ways in which we are all human. We’ve all made mistakes and we’ve all bounced back. But YOUR mistake is not HIS mistake and vice versa. What worked for you may not work for him, so it’s important to work together to find solutions that make sense for his unique situation. Create a plan that allows you to be involved, but for him to take ownership and observe how quickly your confidence in him becomes confidence in himself.

T – Trust. We spend years teaching right from wrong, offering life’s valuable lessons, and being the leader in the mentee-mentor partnership. Until one day, the young person before you is preparing to take flight on his own. It suddenly becomes time for the youth to demonstrate his own leadership capabilities and for us to simply trust. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of mentoring a young person, learning to let go and trust is a critical step in your role as a mentor. But it’s also the most rewarding. Sit back and enjoy the gifts.