Eight Things to Know Before You Start Mentoring a Kid


The art of mentoring. It ain’t what it used to be.

Most of the leaders I work alongside are working with students and young employees (teens and twenty-somethings). Several have spoken to me about their frustrations when mentoring a young adult in their organization or school. Comments come up like:

  • They’re not motivated by finances like we Boomers are.
  • They think they know everything…already.
  • They don’t want to stay in one place very long, so depth is difficult.
  • They want to work at “cool” jobs since they share it all on social media.
  • They show little desire to go deep on one area, but want to do it “all.”

My response?

Effective mentoring has shifted—so we must shift as well.

The first group of students I mentored was in 1979, and they were Baby Boomers. Due to cultural realities, they had their own set of virtues and baggage. Then, along came Generation X, with their unique traits and troubles. Today, I’m mentoring not just Generation Y, but Generation iY, the young people born since 1990. They are not worse or better, but they are different. Forming developmental relationships must look different. If we try to do it the way we always have, we’ll be disappointed.

Jeanne Meister, co-author of The 2020 Workplace, explains that the mentorship model for Millennials has transitioned. In a recent article she noted, “Today’s new mentorship models are more like Twitter conversations than long-term relationships of days past. They’re short-term and quite informal. And they end before it becomes a chore for either party, like moving on from a just-OK date.”

I think her comment is spot on for most young mentees today. So, let me offer some counsel for any staff, faculty, coach, parent or youth worker who wants to begin a mentoring connection with a young person:

  1. Keep it real and informal. When things get stiff, students often get out.
  2. Before getting intentional, let them clarify what they really want and need.
  3. Be honest in your reply. If you cannot fulfill it, refer them elsewhere.
  4. Let them drive the conversations with questions. Scratch where the itch is.
  5. Incentivize them as you answer. Share “why” your solution is important.
  6. Anchor what you share with an image or metaphor. They’re visual learners.
  7. Lead with questions. They love to hear their own voice.
  8. Set a time to evaluate your outcomes. Did your time meet the need?

In my book, Life Giving Mentors, I write that new leaders will not be developed in massive groups at conferences, but through life on life mentoring relationships. The art of mentoring will always be needed. How we do it, however, will shift with the times. I am encouraging you to make the changes you need to equip the next generation of leaders.

What do you think? Have you noticed any other shifts adults must make?

Eight Things to Know Before You Start Mentoring a Kid