His name was Rob.
I was 16, he was my camp counsellor, and I thought he was one of the coolest people I knew.
When he spoke, I listened. And when I spoke, he listened, and in a way that was really different than my parents did.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my parents, and I knew they loved me, but at that stage of my life, there were certain things I needed to process with someone else—things like personalizing my faith, doubts and convictions about my future, important relationships, calling.
I loved my parents, and no one shaped me more than them, but the truth is, at that stage, I needed a mentor.
One of the most significant findings from Renegotiating Faith was the role and importance of mentors in the lives of adolescents as they moved from high school to life after high school.
If young people did not have mentors to help them connect with a faith community (a Christian campus group, small group, or church in their new neighbourhood) after high school, only 16% actually joined a faith community by the end of their first year of school. However, young adults who did have a mentor from their home context helping them transition into a new faith community were far more likely to make those connections—that number then jumped to over 70%.
And mentors were not simply “travel guides.” The most effective mentors played multiple roles in the life of a young person. They were “prophets”—they saw potential in students that students didn’t necessarily see themselves, and they pointed them out. They were “negotiators”—they used their “trust capital” to help others see new traits and new possible roles of leadership in their churches and organizations. They created opportunities of influence for young leaders in communities that they could not have negotiated on their own. And they were “shepherds and priests,” helping students transition their faith from that of their family to something they took ownership of.
If you are like me as a parent, you may see this role of mentor and ask, “Isn’t this my role?” And in some ways, and in some circumstances, yes. Throughout childhood and early adolescence, you are playing this role and laying important foundations for your child to move through this transition in a wonderfully healthy way.
However, by virtue of the normal journey of late adolescents, in order for faith to be owned and rooted in a young person, there has to be some sort of differentiation from the family of origin.
Research shows that happening best in the context of a mentor that shares the values and faith of the family of origin. Healthy families who want healthy young adults love healthy mentors.
So what can we as parents do? Let me give you a few ideas:
Become advocates for youth ministry.
There are few environments that are better designed or structured for healthy mentorship than effective youth ministries that are committed to some form of small groups.
Make your child’s commitment to your youth ministry a priority from an early age, so that they have the best possible opportunity to develop healthy mentoring relationships. (For two other key environments you should encourage for the sake of your child's faith journey, check out this article.)
Become advocates for the influence of other adults in your child’s life.
Support small group leaders.
Have them over for supper. Get to know them. Commit to praying for them. Become their ally.
There may be seasons your child won’t listen to you, but they will listen to their mentor, so make sure you are listening to their mentor as well, and create space for them to hear from you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help during the trying times.
Mentors are rarely counsellors or “fixers” and they probably shouldn’t be. But they can listen, they can offer hope, they can be a stable, relational presence in the life of a young person when their world seems to be spinning out of control. Invite trusted leaders into that role with your child.
A simple lunch “date” at the right time can reshape the whole trajectory of a young person. Don’t be afraid to ask key people to play that role with your child.
Be a mentor for someone else’s teen.
I am so thankful for my friends that have chosen to invest in my boys. And I am thankful to be able to do the same for them.
Someone once said it takes a village to raise a family...it’s true, but sometimes just a friend will do. Be that friend. And don’t be afraid to make it formal. Let your friends know that you will gladly commit to a “coke” a month with their teen if they will do the same with yours. Be intentional. It matters.
If you're wondering how to get started, read this practical guide to giving young people the right advice. (It's easier than you think!)
It is true, our kids are not our own.
Yes, we have responsibility for them.
Yes, there are no voices or environments more important than the voices and environments of the family of origin.
But there are seasons when other voices are louder and heard more clearly. Pray God would send the kind of voices you want your child to hear, and do what you can to put your child in a space where they will hear them.