I cannot imagine being a tween or teen today. All of the anxieties that I had at that age about fitting in or being liked have been blown open by very public and persistent exposure to social and other media. My work has led me to researchers, parents and teachers who say cultivating good grades or confidence is not as important to girls today as presenting a public image that is non-threatening, superficial, and more than a little sexualized. It was really important for me to have healthy adults in my life to pay attention to me, make me feel heard, and to show me that the world is a much more interesting, bountiful and friendly place than I believed while growing up. My hope is to provide that to my Circle teen.
I get to watch S. blossom and navigate new situations and quandaries all the time. I get to see a certain sweet vulnerability shine through the oh-so-cool young woman who is trying to test who she is in the world. I get to witness her as she learns how to deal with conflict, or stay true to herself under pressure from other girls or from boys. A lot of us complain about all the hate and conflict and coarseness in the world. This may sound sappy, but my relationship with S. reminds me that authentic, loving attention to others and to ourselves is a powerful weapon against hatred and hostility.
Why do you stay? Because it evolves. We have more trust and fun and sense of each other than when we met almost four years ago. I can't wait to see who she turns into.
In measurable terms, she is doing much, much better in school than she was when we started hanging out. In less tangible terms, she is willing to try new things. After refusing to try Cross-Country skiing for years, she's come around and wants to do it. Now, if we could have some snow!
I think it's important for everyone to have a
place to escape from the everyday. For teens, that may mean a respite away from the noise and baggage and personalities they are around each day. After a few initial outdoor meetings and a few shows of bravado, I brought S. over to my house for a baking date. She seemed to enjoy the quiet and the focused activity and asked if we could meet there more often. I think having a mentor provides her a kind of sanctuary.
The best part of being a mentor is that I have a fabulous young woman teaching me the power of connection, the value of loving attention, and how to use SnapChat.
Written by Virginia Prescott
Photo credits: Circle Program, Virginia Prescott, and NHPR.