Mentoring young people toward success or a better lifestyle can be the most rewarding experience, but if you’re not in tune with the millennial way of thinking it can be damaging for both parties. What I’ve learned over the years while working with young adults is that they are open to change but will often find a way to avoid your message if you’re not strategic in the approach. Some coaches and mentors miss the boat because they’re not making the connection mutual. Meaning, many of the younger students will find a way to shut down if they feel constrained, forced to think a certain way, or disrespected. This reaction often happens when coaches push their message of wisdom or talk down to the audience. The best results come when you engage them creatively. Getting them to think about the subject and establish innovative ways to reach the outcomes. I’ve seen speakers and mentors go overboard using “old school” tactics and buzz words to get their point across. In the end, those facilitators are only wasting everyone’s time with no productive results.
New era of coaching/mentoring
In today’s climate of technology, social media, and open minded culture, young adults are looking for a more relatable delivery. That’s why it’s important for event planners to correctly connect the right facilitator that’s suitable for their needs. The selected coach, speaker, or mentor “MUST” have a true spirit of serving and in tune with the audience circumstances or experiences. Successful mentors are usually trustworthy with a track record of measurable outcomes within this young demographic.
My successes and failures
In my experience, I’ve had students immediately recognized my sincerity. They also could sense a connection such as; growing up in the original video game era, or being an athlete, and even my taste in music. I’ve been able to utilize these little similarities to engage and captivate students while educating them on the importance of making the right decisions in life. In one case–I made a stable connection using video game comparisons that ultimately gave me creditably within the group. In another scenario, I was able to relate my hometown community disparities to where many of them are today. Successful facilitators, I’ve observed over the years are all experts in using relatable topics. Some other connecting subjects may range from teenage unemployment, college struggles, single parenting, or financial challenges. If you have a personal story to tell that will earn your creditability with the young crowd, share it.
Formal vs. Informal Delivery
Mentoring or coaching young adults requires the ability to know when to be formal and when to be informal. It’s a learned skill. You have to be able to identify when to turn the switch on and when to turn it off. I had a mentor give me some excellent advice early in my youth training career. He told me to, “learn how to feel their current emotions and adjust your delivery to get and keep their attention.” He was correct because shortly afterward I found myself leading a national at-risk program where some classrooms ended up formal, while others were really informal. By the time I finished class #50, I could quickly identify criteria within the curriculum that matched the participant’s engagement levels.
Some useful tips
One more thing to keep in mind is to make sure your formal delivery isn’t too regimented. I found out the hard way. If you want to be successful working with young adults, you have to understand that they often want to have a mutual relationship and will stick to the process “if” the adults are flexible. Again, they know when you actually care and can tell the difference between someone who’s there to collect a check vs. someone who’s really in tune with their needs.
Another good tip if you’re interested in working with young adults. Do your homework! Take the time to research the general audience and make sure the planner provides you with some good intel. A great item to ask for is the history of successful coaches/mentors from previous events. This information can help you decide the best method for maximum results. Break down the intel into sections to accurately determine if the opportunity fits your capabilities. I recommend you establish evaluating categories to help plan a successful engagement:
Break down the opportunity into groups using these main areas
• Formal or Informal event
• Edutainment or Encouragement format
• Audience age range
• Social / Economic platform
• Training or Visual Aides Needed
• Coach, Speaker, or Mentor delivery
• Lastly—Attire that fits the profile for a successful event
Personal gratification for both parties
The beauty of working with young people is the personal learning experience as a result of being amongst young minds. Depending upon the program you’re participating in, you’ll be amazed at how intelligent and technical this generation of young adults are. For instance, I’ve performed after-school, workforce development programs, and trade training courses throughout the U.S. I continue to be fascinated with the capabilities to multi-task, broad knowledge base from the social media generation, and how creative the new age teenagers and young adults are. It’s gratifying to see your material being applied but with a new age perspective. You’ll be blown away to see their critical thinking skills on display when faced with an engaging challenge.
How to get started?
If you’re interested in working with teens, at-risk youth, or young adults in general—start with your local associations and volunteer. Volunteering provides the right environment to learn the students and be mentored by experienced counselors and social workers. Some of the bigger organizations will include Unemployment Centers, School Systems, Police/Sheriff Departments, YMCA’s, Big Brothers/Sisters of America, Universities/Colleges, Urban Leagues, and Goodwill Industries. If you want to start out smaller, you can look for churches and non-profit organizations that focus on youth development or mental health. I’ve worked with a variety of agency, and each one has its initiatives that are strategic to their goals. Gaining more experience allows you to look for opportunities to build newer, more impactful, and innovative programs that make a difference in your community. Trust me—there is nothing better than changing lives of the future leaders of the world.
As I mentioned before, there aren’t many things on this earth more satisfying than serving others. The gratification, pride, and pure joy I experience when students achieve their dreams is enough to fuel my desire to do even more. There is a large population of young adults (age 16-24) in every community who can use your help or need to hear your relatable story.
When you give your expertise, money, knowledge, or even a few minutes a week to a young adult who’s desperately seeking something more than what they currently have—both lives are changed forever.
Scott A. Coulter, LSSYB/CLC/CCC