Mentors: What Are They and How Do You Find One?

A mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser.”

How do we come to find mentors? Often we either seek them out or they appear in our lives as someone to whom we feel connected.  Whether it is someone to share in your parenting, career choices, or hobbies, mentors can help you grow.  I just got off the phone with one of my mentors and am reminded by how much my mentors inspire me! My whole life I havesought out people I think are amazing, people that will be straight with me, people I can model, and people that will make me a better person for just having known them. I have a mentor from every stage of my life, and every town I have lived.

I just returned from Amsterdam, where I visited the Van Gough museum. Van Gough was only an artist for a total of 10 years (age 27-37)  and constantly sought to study under people who could do what he wanted better. He painted hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of sunflowers until he had what he thought was the perfect sunflower. He lived a simple life with no money, borrowing from his parents and brother to live. Like many, his work was popular after his suicide at age 37.  His last letter to his brother, who had supported his art career, was about what a failure he was. Wow! That part of the audiotape actually brought tears to my eyes.

Van Gough had many mentors that contributed to the artist he became.  Thinking about this in the context of what my mentors have meant to me, I was reminded of a quote about youth, “The best help we can offer the youth of today is to prepare them for tomorrow.” ― Mark W. Boyer

Webinar_PC RlpsWhile this is about teens specifically, I think it applies to all. We can all benefit from preparation for what we haven’t yet experienced. We can learn so much from the people who have had those experiences, or from those who simply have access to different information or unique perspectives that challenge or add to our own. Through this, we are given an opportunity to see the world through a different pair of glasses. Whether it is a teen in your life or a good friend….don’t let them live their life not knowing the gifts they have to offer the world.  If you have the opportunity to be a mentor to someone, don’t hesitate. If you don’t have a mentor, find one.  You never know the impact those relationships will have on your life.

Tips for Finding a Mentor:

1. Mentors Have Something You Want: Mentors are credible sources for learning whatever it is you wish to learn. They offer support and guidance in a particular area. This doesn’t mean having all the answers. In fact, often mentors rely on their own thoughts, interpretations and experiences.

2. Mentors Nourish the Relationship: Mentors have qualities you respect. They  ask open questions and get to know you personally. They show genuine interest in your hopes, dreams, challenges, and interests. Then, they use this information to provide opportunities for you to grow.

3. Mentors Share Insights and Experiences: Mentors share their experiences, but in a neutral way. The idea is that you are left with information and ideas so that you can make a decision for yourself. Mentors offer ideas, encouragement, and an “open door policy” to discuss  the challenges you may face. Challenges are not road block, but opportunities to grow through.

4.  Mentors Listen Well: Mentors are a great sounding board. A mentor is someone you can say anything to; you can feel free to express your excitement and your fears. They will offer direct advice, but only when asked. Often through their fresh perspective and honest listening, you will solve your own problems.

5. Mentors Provide Encouragement: Mentors will give you those upbeat words of encouragement that help you to see what you can not see for yourself. We are often our own worst critic. Like Van Gough, we may see ourselves as failures from time-to-time. Mentors can remind you of your strengths and accomplishments, while giving you the hope to keep pushing when you really just want to give up.

Help You Teen Find Mentors

As their parent, you can certainly be a mentor to your teen. However, you can also play an active role in helping them find other mentors. They already benefit from your love, wisdom and experience. Trusted mentors will not take away from that relationship. It will give your teen access to another person that cares about his or her well-being  Research shows that teens benefit greatly from having someone, outside of their parents, to bounce things off of.  While you may want your teen to talk to you, don’t take it personally if they find someone with whom they connect. Rather than competing, become part of that relationship by talking to them about what they are learning.

Nourish these relationships; they are life-changing.

Happy parenting!

Shelly

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Free Webinar 10/1/13 @ 7:00pm ET: Want A Great Relationship With Your Child? Communicate.

FREE Webinar on Tuesday October 1, 2013 @ 7:00 Easter Time

Recently I posted an article entitled, Want a Great Relationship with Your Child? Communicate. I will be presenting a webinar on this topic on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 7:00pm eastern time with Therapist Express. Please join us to dive into the art of parent-child communication.

Register here for this FREE webinar

Description:

Having a great relationship with your child starts with communication.  Have you ever wondered, “Why doesn’t my kid tWebinar_PC Rlpsalk to me anymore?”or “Why is my child so distant these days?”  Every parent wonders this at some point or another.  If you want to strengthen your relationship with your child, learn to connect.

Good communication involves listening and sharing aspects of yourself, while developing empathy and understanding for others.  This can look very different as your child grows and develops. This webinar will give you concrete strategies to connect with your child through communication. When you can do thins, you can have a great relationship with your child no matter what life throws your way.

Bio:

Shelly Mahon is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Wisconsin Madison and the parent of two teenagers. She has been working with youth and families for about 20 years, and teaching in a university setting since the year 2000.  She is the program director for Apart, Not Broken: Learn, Connect, & Create, an online program helping fathers adjust and parent after divorce or separation. The evaluation of this program is her dissertation.  Her commitment is that parents have the support and resources they need to take care of themselves and foster the growth and development of their children.

The Unique & Special Role of Dads

“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.” Dr. David Popenoe

Happy Father’s Day! If you follow my blog you know that I support and conduct research on the importance of fathers. Fathers play a fundamental and profound role in their child’s development. Over the years, our culture has shifted from one where fathers were the breadwinners and mothers were the caretakers to one where fathers want to be more involved in the nurturing and caretaking aspects of childrearing.  Still, fathers bring their own twist to caretaking, one that is found to have a positive impact on their child’s thinking, psychological well-being, and social behavior. Let’s look at one of the things that make dads so special, PLAY!

Dads spend a much higher percentage of their time engaged in playful, stimulating, one-on-one activities with their children.  How does that impact their development? From the very beginning, play is essential to a child’s cognitive development. According to psychologist Jean Piaget, an infant’s mental development begins by using his/her senses and motor activities to interact with the environment.  Lying on their stomach, touching a mobile, and playing with their toes add to their knowledge of the world. As children get older, they add imitation and language to playful interactions. By the time they are teens, they do a variety of activities with their dad.  They may wrestle, shoot hoops, ride bikes, go to movies, play ball, go out to dinner together, frequent the ice-cream shop, or go on road trips. Dads pay attention to what their kids like to do and then they DO IT with them!

dad&teen

However, play does much more then make children smarter. Play teaches them how to regulate their feelings and behavior.  For example, wrestling with dad is a fun way to develop self-control.  Through this type of roughhousing, children learn they can be physical and aggressive without loosing control of their own emotions. Self-control leads to prosocial behavior and positive interactions with adults and peers. Finally, fathers are much more likely to promote independence and achievement.  This is often balanced by a mother’s tendency to be nurturing.

I asked a few teens what made their dad special. As you read their response, notice how these teens express the importance of play, independence, and simply spending time together.

To me, my father is more than the normal dad. Not only is he a brave, strong, and heroic dad, but he also has a childish side.  He is fun and loves to mess around and hang out with my brother and I. Without my dad, I would never have that extra shoulder to lean on or that friend that I can always trust, no matter what. He has always told me, as his father used to tell him, that he will always be my best friend. He will always keep his promises, support me, and be on my side. Ever since I was very little, my dad has strived for me to do my best, from teaching me to ride my bike and bike up a hill near our house to teaching me how to do my times tables in third grade. He never gives up. He is always pushing me to do my best. So, in the end, my dad is not just a father, but a support, teacher, and most importantly, my best friend.

My Dad is my best friend. My favorite part of our relationship is that every morning, on the drive down the mountain from our house, we talk about life in such a free way that there seems to be no communication barriers between us that the “average American Father-Daughter relationship” is prescribed to have. We trust each other and we have each other backs. The kind of relationship I have with my Dad is the result of a long journey together and can be largely attributed to my parents divorce when I was 13. Sometimes things got really hard and money and living with my Dad was tricky. Through it all we were forced to be vulnerable and open with each other, which is why we can be so comfortable today. I am thankful for all of it. I love my Dad.

When I was little, my dad was like my superhero. Everything he did was amazing! As I got older I learned that he was not perfect, but he was authentic.  He has shared his wisdom and his mistakes with me, and through it all I have learned a lot. My dad is a role model, teacher and a friend. He is always there for me. My dad has bailed me out when I made mistakes but it wasn’t free. He showed me that he loved me, but also helped me to make up for what happened and grow past it. My dad is the guy that will learn to play hockey so that he can coach you and see you more often.  I think my dad would even pick up ballet if that was what I liked and it meant he could see me more. My dad will always be a big part of my life. I love him very much!

Never underestimate the impact you have on your child’s life!

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

Mom: Sherpa, Supporter, & Number 1 Fan

Since it is Mother’s day, let’s talk about moms. Moms become moms the day they find out they are pregnant. Before the baby even enters the world, moms feel responsible for taking care of this new life MomTeenby providing it with the most nurturing environment she can inside her body. And, babies make themselves known! They are the source of morning sickness, kicks to the bladder, sleepless nights, and the inability to tie one’s own shoes anymore. For me, coffee made me sick and I could smell rotten produce a mile away! Mothers greet their baby with open arms the day it is born, but their hearts and souls already know each other.

Most moms say that having their first child was a distinct experience; there’s nothing quite like it! Expecting moms spend months wondering things like: “What is this really going to be like?” “Can I do this?” “Will I every have time for myself again?” You may have had different questions depending on your circumstances and how prepared you were to have a child. Regardless, becoming a mom probably left you with feelings of anxiety, joy, worry and excitement.

A good friend gave me some of the best “advice” I received with my first child. He said, “Your child will not know any different. Whatever you do will be normal and perfect in his/her eyes.” Of course, as children get older they start to notice that other families do things different. There is still a comforting feeling associated with going home after a rockin’ sleepover or a fun weekend vacation with another family. There is nothing quite like coming coming home.

With all this thought about what it means to be a mom, I decided to ask some teen how they would describe their mom. Here are some of the things they said.

“A mom is the best support system anyone can have. She is someone you can always rely on to support and love you no matter what you do. She is helpful and loving and kind.”

“A mom is someone that makes you. She buys you food, drives you places, and always loves you.”

“A mom is a guide. She is your Sherpa in life. She won’t do things for you, but she will help you reach the top of the mountain. She sets you free when you’re ready to go.”

“A mother is someone with whom mistakes don’t matter. In any relationship, people are bound to mess up. Both mothers and kids inevitably do so. This can break other relationships, but there is something about mothers in which the bond is really quite special and unbreakable.”

As you go through your day, think about what “mom” means to you. If you would like, please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Have a magical day and happy parenting!

Shelly

Private Family Video Website

Many of you are familiar with my new program, Apart, Not Broken: Learn, Connect, & Create. This online program provides a safe, secure, multi-media environment for fathers to adjust and parent after divorce or separation.  Today, I am pleased to announce our partnership with ProudOn, Inc.  With a focus on Internet safety, ProudOn, Inc. created a fun, safe, and secure private family video website.  Check out the following article for more information.

After long and complex research, coupled with our strong relationship with families, we at ProudOnTV noticed a neglect of moms and families of all sizes in current products. Their rather conservative yet very important needs were simply not being taken seriously in today’s over “cool” and “hip” or ultra high-end video trends and social networks. So we considered those needs and took them very seriously and created a product that fits.

Now they are able to instantly create, control and fully customize their own Private family video website named after them. This gives them the safest and most secure place where they can store and share the most private family moments only with carefully selected audience. Only souls that are able to access the website beside them are the people they decided to send an invitation to via Facebook or email. And subsequently they are able to participate too by uploading their videos or by commenting but even then the owner of the website is in full control over it and can automatically terminate any unfit video or member for misbehavior. Naturally every member is notified about anything new happening on the website so they nicely can keep track of each other even if scattered all around the world.

Obviously there is impossible for any security breaches, any spamming with unwanted adds, banners or pop-up windows to happen neither will their videos be reviewed by any 3rd party before allowed to be displayed as it happens on Facebook or Youtube. Because no concerned mom would consciously post videos to share with granny of her kids running back and forth into the sea in their birthday suits during last summer’s holiday at their favorite private resort.

And, last but not least, it is simple so even the beloved grandparents will be attracted and eager to participate instead of being scared away instantly, when encountered, which is what generally happens – bless them! Best of all, it is totally FREE backed with an iOS app that is free as well.

Have a look at our live demo on how your own Private family video website may feel and look.

The Pressure of Being a Teenager

Teenagers know what pressure is!

Just try it, it will be fun.  Are you really going to wear that? Hey, did you hear that Joe’s parents are out of town Saturday. OMG! We have to do that again! Do it, or I’ll tell everyone what a poser you are!  You can’t say things like that if you are going to hang out with us.

Does any of this sound familiar? We were all teenagers at one time and have heard some variation of the statements above.  When you really look, you may see that you still succumb to peer pressure at times.  Ever show up to a formal party in casual dress? Ever say something and everyone silently stares at you like you are from Mars?  Ever have someone ask you to do something that you really didn’t want to do?

The difference between you and your teenager is that you have developed some skills and strategies for navigating pressure.  Your teen is learning and needs your help. Most teens will say that they feel pressure at varying degrees every day. Teens feel pressure to fit in with their peers, please their parents, do well in school, be active, have good manners, be popular, etc.  Tumultuous as it is, it is part of growing up and something we all experience.

Pressure from parents and peers can be completely different beasts. While parents generally love their children unconditionally and truly want what’s best for them, peer groups are often unpredictable, fickle, and take on a personality of their own. At home, teens can feel pressure to perform, have manners, do chores, and generally be “good”.  With friends, teens can feel pressure to be cool and fit in. What is normal behavior in one peer group may be unacceptable in another. Sometimes, these pressures conflict as your teen tries to navigate his/her way through the teen years.

Most people talk about peer pressure as the primary way in which teens influence one another.  This is because the general definition of peer pressure is the influence that a group of peers exert on an individual within the group.  Individual behaviors are an attempt to conform to what is expected of the group as a whole. In other words, teens do what they have to do to fit in.  However, a closer look at the research reveals that there are at least 5 different ways that peers can have a positive or detrimental influence on one another.

5 Types of Peer Influence:

1.  Peer Pressure: Directly and overtly persuading others to engage in a particular behavior.

For Example:  “You can’t be seen with that guy anymore if you are going to hang out with us!”

2.  Modeling: Exhibiting or demonstrating a particular attitude or behavior for others to imitate.

For Example: “All my friends are drinking at this party. Maybe I should try some…”

3.  Opportunity: Being somewhere that provides opportunities for prosocial or antisocial behavior.

For Example: “Looks like we are all alone until your parents get home at 9:00.”

4. Reinforcement: Supporting behaviors that fit within the norms of the group.

For Example: “You look great today. I love your outfit!”

5. Aggression: Using intimidation, force, or bullying to control group norms, and enhance or maintain individual or group status.

For Example: “Give me your lunch or I’ll dunk your head in the toilet!”

As parents, we want to help our teen navigate these kinds of pressures and minimize negative influences.  So, what can you do? 

  • Expand your understanding of peer pressure: Look for ways in which peer influence could be present in your teen’s life. Teens can be exposed to different kinds of influence depending on their interests, activities, hobbies, geographic location, etc.
  • Help your teen understand the range of influences: A teen may or may not be conscious of influence.  However, knowing what it can look like can make it more noticeable when it happens.
  • Teach your teen to be prepared: Help your teen develop strategies that minimize or remove peer influence. For example, carrying a cup around at a party can reduce or remove invitations to drink.  
  • Create escape codes: Practice code words or phrases that your teen can use with you when he/she is in a bind. Make sure your teen knows that you, or another trusted adult, can provide a ride whenever one is needed.   
  • Teach your teen to trust his/her instincts: We’ve all had that pain in our gut when “something is wrong”.  Communicate that this pain is a protective mechanism that should be trusted.
  • Be the final scapegoat:  If all else fails, tell your teen to blame you. “My parents won’t let me” or “We have family plans” work great!
  • Teach your teen to think about IMPACT:  Teens are quite capable of considering the “consequences” of their actions. However, teens usually see consequences as negative, personal, and close to home. For example, a teen may be more worried about being rejected than getting caught. Talking about the “impact” of their decisions creates an open conversation that carries less judgement and more awareness of how their behavior can effect themselves and others.
  • Focus on your relationship: Lines of communication are created when you pay attention and show interest in your teen’s world.  Not only will your teen tell you more about what is going on in their life, they will be more open to your advice. Be aware that advice seeking is not always overt.  Sometimes the best guidance comes from modeling, and sharing personal experiences and stories when opportunities presents themselves.  Remember, your teen is watching and listening to you more than you may think!

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

A Spin on Risk-Taking Behavior as an Expression of Positive Youth Development

More often then not we associate risk-taking behavior in teens as negative or harmful. However, we know that the teen brain is literally wired to take risks. Therein lies the dilemma. We are left with the belief, or fear, that our teens are going to take risks that could have serious consequences.

I would like to offer a different perspective. If we know that our teens are naturally going to engage in experiences that give them an adrenaline rush, why not provide them with opportunities to have that rush in an environment that promotes positive youth development? When you really think about it, don’t we all develop new skills and competencies when we put our selves out there and take a risk? Now, I am not suggesting that you encourage your teen to be dangerous or unsafe. Rather, I am suggesting that you literally set up opportunities for them to take positive risks.

Start by really thinking about what kind of activities best fit your teen. Below are some examples of positive risks that relate to different characteristics in teens:

  • Social risks: For some teens, it is risky to speak out in a group. If you have a quiet or reserved teen, it may be enough to encourage them to take a leadership role in something like student counsel or  a local youth group.
  • Physical risks: Some teens find satisfaction in taking risks on the field. This may be through school or community sponsored sport teams. Not only can sports be good for team building and leadership development, they expose young people to adult role models.
  • Other physical risks: Not all teens like team sports. Some may prefer to take up skateboarding, mountain biking, skiing, rock climbing, white water rafting, or surfing.  Of course, they need to have the right equipment and safety training. These activities develop initiative and personal discipline.
  • Political risks: Some teens are passionate about making a difference in their community. They may like writing their local congressman/woman, voicing their opinion on debate team, or participating in community activist or youth governance groups.
  • Creative Risks: Teens can express their creative juices in a variety of contexts. Some may take an interest in the drama team or the school choir.  Others may like playing guitar, reading poetry,  or reciting  spoken word at the local coffee shop. Either way, this kind of expression can take some serious guts!  Not only do these activities  give young people an opportunity to develop a specific skill, they teach them to be competent in public speaking.
  • Competitive Risks: Give your teen a chance to compete if they are inclined.  They can learn a lot, regardless of whether they  win  or lose.   If your teen does lose, treat it as opportunity to teach that we all lose at some point. Losing a competition does not make him/her a failure. It simply means there was a lack of performance.

We have to do everything we can to keep our teens physically and emotionally safe.  But, we also have to give our  teens a chance to take risks, learn about themselves, and develop skills and competencies that help them accomplish what they want in the world. Experts say that when teens have opportunities to take positive risks, they are more inclined to avoid the negative ones.   Think about our great leaders. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln did not have the impact they had on the world by sitting back and being careful all the time. I would like to leave you with some of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln. As you read them, take a moment to consider how you can share these with your teen, or even be the example of how they are expressed in the world.

1. “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
2. “The best way to predict your future is to create it”
3. “Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it.”
4. “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.”
5. “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.”
6. “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”
7. “Live a good life. In the end it is not the years in a life, but the life in the years.”
8. “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.”
9. “Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing.”
10. “It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Happy Parenting!

Shelly