Recently, I was participating in a discussion on mentoring the youth and it occurred to those present that reaching out to the younger generation will require the ‘older’ ones to find a way of getting down to their level of thinking in order to build a rapport and understand them better. The youth today have unique mindsets that reflect their own experiences in the 21st century. They operate from a platform of high technology, faster access to information, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and greater freedom of expression, among other things. They don’t blindly and quietly accept everything handed down to them but often prod issues and ask tough questions. They are generally a lot more ambitious, adventurous and attracted by hype. They also tend to be impatient in their approach to life, but nonetheless eager to know and explore new territories. The basic question in our minds during that discussion was, how can we build meaningful relationships with the youth in order to influence the direction of their lives?
Too many times we have approached the youth with ‘ready-made answers’ to their problems, effectively imposing what we know on them without due regard to their own perceptions of life. It’s an age-old approach borrowed from previous generations that adults always and automatically know better so the youth have nothing to say or contribute. I have been guilty of this more than once and I have had to learn through experience that the youth need a more sensitive and practical approach that involves incorporating their views into decision making, for example. Offering them opportunities to do things on their own, even if they make serious mistakes, is another better approach that enhances their learning experience.
Being able to mingle easily with the youth is a plus for anyone trying to reach out to them. Imagine holding an outreach program in one of the slums in Nairobi and then they begin to speak sheng and you have absolutely no idea what they are trying to say! One needs to be able to adapt to their environment so as to get closer to them. Sometimes you have to create some form of entertainment, e.g. sports, drama or music to attract them even if the main agenda is to have a serious discussion on life issues like HIV/AIDS or dropping out of school.
This is a generation that is seeking and waiting for answers. They are hungry for someone to look at them twice, share knowledge and experience, listen to their dreams and visions and walk them down the path of wisdom. For the young men, this amounts to a need for fathers while the young women need mothers to nurture and point them in the right direction. I’m not just talking about the normal parenting that mothers and fathers do for their children. It is something that goes way beyond that and fosters a special kind of relationship. Learning experiences are shared freely and knowledge is passed on that enables the youth to overcome obstacles and get closer to their vision in life.
Big sisters are needed. These are not just older women by virtue of age or experience but they are women willing to form bonds and build relationships that are strong and meaningful. Rather than waiting for the youth to find their way to you, try going to where they are and find out what’s happening in their lives. Find out what they like, value or respect, as well as their aspirations for the future. Then provide feedback at the right time and in a way that draws respect from them. When you show someone, anyone, that you are genuinely interested in who they are, they are more likely to open up to you and let you be their friend.
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