You want to know the most common thing I hear from parents about their teenagers? “Kids don’t listen to their parents,” they tell me. “My kid won’t even think about taking my advice.”
Hi, I’m Elizabeth Dankoski, college consultant, mentor and founder of The Dream School Project. After 15 years of working with students, I’ve found that the tricky thing about being a teen is that they’re getting closer and closer to being fully independent — but they’re not there yet. And it’s so frustrating for them. So everything has the potential to become a fight.
After all, they’re feeling the constant demands of school, which rarely gives them the option to express their independence. And at home, they’re facing the expectations and demands of their parents. All a natural part of growing up — but all potentially infuriating to a teenager hungry for freedom.
But with a mentor, there’s no need for a fight because the mentor’s job is to support whatever the student’s own goals are — and to help the student get clear about her goals in the first place!
Now, most students have no idea how to go about finding a mentor, so I want to share with you 5 tips you can pass on to your child. Here’s what I tell my students:
Number 1. Make a list of people you admire in the field.
You can start by brainstorming a list of people you look up to. They could be current teachers, or teachers you’ve heard about from other students, or leaders you’ve read about.
Number 2. Research your prospective mentors.
You want to make sure you know enough about the people you’re reaching out to so that you’re sure the person’s background fits with your interests and passions. So Google a bit and make sure you have a very strong understanding of how this person has contributed to society. That way when you first reach out, you can begin by expressing your admiration for their work.
Number 3. Determine exactly what you want to gain from these mentors.
You want to have a clear sense of what you hope to gain from this mentor. Are you looking for an internship or are you looking for an opportunity to sit down and talk through your ideas? Be very specific so the mentor knows exactly what s/he is agreeing to — but start small with a one-time, 30-minute meeting, for example, and see how the connection unfolds.
Number 4. Determine what benefit you can offer.
This is really important. You don’t want to just ask them to give to you. You want to consider what you’re going to bring to your mentors. If you’re thinking about an internship or a shadow position, what kind of skill and enthusiasm can you offer? Or what kind of volunteering can you include?
Now that you’ve followed these steps, you’re ready to craft a short, polite email requesting a brief conversation.
Number 5, be sure to say thank you.
This is something that will make you really stand out. No matter what kind of connection you form with a mentor, saying thank you is a critical way to show that you value the advice and time of the person who’s been generous enough to share both. And the best way to do that is to write a handwritten note.