Note: January is National Mentoring Month, which serves as an opportunity for all adults—ministry workers, mentors, and parents—to celebrate and review the powerful relationships they share with children. Forward this column to them with your affirmation and encouragement for the critical roles they play.
Once, while swimming in the ocean, a large wave knocked over my daughter, who was five years old at the time. The strong undertow held her underwater and began to pull her out to sea. As she slid past me toward open water, I looked down and saw my little girls' eyes wide open looking back at me. I had the impression she was smiling. Adrenaline and instincts quickly engaged as I grabbed her tiny arm. I pulled her on my shoulder and in a shaky voice asked if she was okay. She said, and I will never forget these words, "I wasn't scared. I knew you were here."
Every child will go through rough times, but does every child have reason to feel unafraid because she knows she can count on someone to be there?
Kids long for someone to rely on, because life offers plenty of opportunities for disappointment. Evidence of that disappointment exists all around us.
- According to U.S. census data, one out of every three kids lives in a home without one or both parents.
- A Hofstra University study showed that 100 percent of kids hear hurtful names in school or the neighborhood.
- The National Mental Health Association estimates that depression affects as many as one in five teenagers, and stands as the third-highest cause of death in adolescents.
- Studies show that 17% of children are bullied 2-3 times per month or more.
More than we adults ever realize, children feel unsteady and desperately want to grab hold of a reliable hand. No matter the circumstances, you can inject confidence and stability into a youngster's life when they believe they can count on you. But count on you for what?
Focus on just four overlapping elements of reliability, and you'll become an everyday hero to a child—yours, or perhaps the child you mentor.
You can count on me …
To care. Everyone is aware of the demands of taking care of a newborn. We also know that the intensity with which a parent cares for a child typically declines as the child becomes increasingly self-sufficient. In contrast, however, his or her need to be cared about remains at the same high level.
For example, express active interest in what happens during and after school—the times kids will face their greatest number of adolescent challenges, problems, and pains. We adults know that children must learn to face life's tests, but they need not learn those lessons in isolation.
"We may not be able to make their problems disappear, but even the promise of our presence and concern will help ease their pain," say psychologists Dr. Tim Clinton & Dr. Gary Sibcy in Loving Your Child Too Much.
Scott Rubin, Willow Creek Community Church's junior high ministry director, counsels adults to stay connected to kids by actively showing concern for what's happening in their lives. "Even though your child might act like he doesn't want you to ask about his life, the opposite is true," Scott says. "Your kid needs to know someone, especially you, cares."
To be present. Possibly the most powerful way to show you care about a child, and to establish yourself as someone he or she can count on, is by being there. Yes, our busy personal and work lives often make this very difficult. Yet children notice, and thrive, when mom or dad (or a mentor) shows up.