The word mentor comes from the Greek language and was first recorded to describe a character who, in Homer’s Odyssey, served to help rear Odysseus’ son Telemachus while his father was away from home. If one is linguistically inclined, the original word seems to bear likeness to the English “mind”; hence, etymologically, “thinker” or “reminder” and thus “adviser” or “one who makes (you) think or reminds (you) of your duties”. Thus, a mentor is one who informs us about how we conduct our lives; a parent, in principle, should serve such a role to a child beyond overseeing the child’s physical and emotional needs, especially in later life, as a child takes on more and more responsibility and independence. These days, the closest equivalent outside the parent-child relationship is a counselor; but the roles that the counselor serves seem much more detached from those of a mentor and, unfortunately, often bear the negative connotation of “correcting” a child’s behavior. Often, when a child acts out, especially in middle school and upwards academically, it is due to some underlying, unmet psychological need, usually a striving for the child to grow into his or her unique self; this is where mentors come in.
A mentor (who, in principle, commits him or herself to a long-term relationship with the child) gets to know the child personally, to open him or her up, to find out what sparks interest in and motivates the child to his or her individual success in life; a child struggling academically often needs to find the right motivation to stay focused and put his or her life into perspective, even at a young age. Children of middle-school age often begin to question things at this stage, because it is a natural part of their psychological growth; this psychological growth is unfortunately mistaken for hard-headed, self-destructive rebelliousness. But if one mistakes the child’s desire to grow for this, one will undertake a punitive approach rather than a didactic approach to help the child find his or her way. Thus, the child will get destructive, rather than constructive, input from his or her elders, which will hinder the child’s growth.
Hence, a mentor (rather than a counselor) would not only offer the child negative feedback about a child’s misbehavior but would also offer positive feedback; this positive feedback would better inform his or her decisions and foster the child’s sense of independence. This is not to say that a counselor cannot fulfill this role, but the title itself bears a narrower meaning than that implied by the word “mentor”; a mentor is involved regularly, not punctually or sporadically as occasion calls for it. A mentor reaches out to his or her student, to make sure that he or she is on the right path and can relight the burning curiosity characteristic of youth. Likewise, this is not to say that a parent cannot fulfill the mentor’s role, but parents may not be specialized in what interests their children professionally or academically; hence, someone with more expertise and the same inclination to help would better fulfill this role. Forging such professional and academic bonds so early in life will speed the process of intellectual growth and help the child channel his or her energies appropriately in school; further, because the child is so engaged in their studies, they will be less likely to be swayed off course by less motivated peers. In short, finding the right mentor can help the child reach their full potential and smooth the path to adulthood and full independence in the most efficient way.
You may ask: how do I find a good mentor? The first thing to do is know what stimulates your little scholar intellectually: what kinds of skills does he or she find fascinating? What sparks his or her imagination and what are the practical applications stemming thereof? Once you understand the kind of person the child wishes to become, you will understand to whom you should speak; like attracts like. Hence, once you know your child, you will know who your child’s mentor should be. This will be open to change, since people’s interests grow and take shape over time, but the process itself stays more or less the same: know your child and the kind of person that they wish to become and you will know who should instruct him in doing so. Based on this, find someone willing and able to help you to this end in your social circle. Find someone who will make your child think and remind them of what their passions are; this will refine their individuality and help them become those who they are meant to be.
All the best,
Jonathan Leibu at Connecting Concepts Tutoring