Opinion

Times have changed, but teens still need someone on their side | COMMENTARY

Reporter Tracey Compton shares her thoughts about mentoring as January is National Mentoring Month.

When I was in high school, teachers and adults would often reference “the real world” when talking about our future after high school. They used this saying so much it got to be annoying, as if the life we were experiencing in high school wasn’t real or valid.

It also made the future sound very daunting. Adults didn’t seem to get that these phrases and others, such as “You can be anything in the world,” can strike terror in the minds of teens who have no idea what they want to do after high school.

I’ve been reminded of this exciting, yet delicate time for teens in my work as a mentor for Communities in Schools of Kent. I live in Kent, but work in Renton and can’t volunteer for the Renton branch because I cover it. Volunteering for the organization has been rewarding and insightful into the lives of teens these days. Communities in Schools is represented in many school districts across the state, including Renton, and serves not only high schoolers with mentors but grade school children as well. Staff and volunteers are dedicated to preventing dropout and empowering students to achieve in school and in life.

For four years, I helped mentor high school girls at the Kent Phoenix Academy and, man, was it a wake up call.

Times have changed since I graduated in the mid-1990s. Where I passed notes in spiral notebooks to my friends, teens now send texts and the list goes on. The young women taught me as much as I shared with them.

Mentoring was not strictly based on help with school work. I was there to listen and be supportive. While I learned what was hip with kids these days, the girls got brain-storming sessions from me on how they might turn their current passions into a career after high school.

It was exciting and enlightening to see the world from that perspective again.

There are all kinds of new challenges, opportunities and directions teens can go these days. This also makes decisions about the future daunting, which means some things haven’t changed.

Breakthroughs I found, as a mentor, came from playing simple games, like “20 questions” that get to what are teens’ core values, behaviors, likes and interests. I went into mentoring thinking I would have to help these girls figure out a solid roadmap for after high school. That was true to some degree, but helping them discover who they are as people was the more rewarding benefit of our interaction.

If you get the chance to mentor a young person, I’m sure you’ll find that it’s a delight. After the initial fears of “What am I going to say to this person” are over, you’ll see that it’s just as simple as asking questions and really listening to the answers.

Students have enough adults in their lives telling them what to do and where to be. Mentors have special status akin to grandparents and cheerleaders, who bring nothing but positive and encouraging support into their lives.

Consider becoming a mentor today; the benefits will surprise you.

For more information about Communities in Schools of Washington, the parent organization, visit www.ciswa.org.

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