Priorities, Interests, and Talents
As children grow, they develop their own unique interests and talents. While some kids (particularly those most at risk) may seem disengaged and uninterested, there is almost always some activity that attracts them, and/or some special ability they have. Kids who develop their extracurricular interests are less likely to face academic and social problems or to get into trouble.1 Finding an activity at which he or she is good can provide a great boost to self-esteem.2 Early interests can sometimes lead to future careers: for example, a child who loves animals might grow up to be a veterinarian. Even if these interests remain just a hobby, they can enrich a young person’s life for many years to come. Finding a way to help your mentee enjoy constructive extracurricular interests can be one of the most satisfying aspects of mentoring, and it can be a way to establish a deeper rapport.
As a mentor, the most important thing you can do to encourage your mentee to develop his or her interests is simply to listen. As you develop your low-pressure mentor relationship, accepting and affirming your mentee, you will naturally learn about his talents and interests. You will also gain a better sense of the kinds of activities you would enjoy exploring together.
When you discover a talent or interest, you can help your young person by praising and encouraging him. Some kids are discouraged because they think others have more talent and ability than they do, and praise can help them believe in their own abilities. Praise helps with self-esteem, which in turn helps your mentee resist peer pressure. Positive reinforcement works!
For more information on recognizing and encouraging your mentee’s interests and abilities, see the articles listed in Youth Development Tools.
“Tips for Helping Youth Find a Spark” has specific suggestions for mentors on how to find a young person's “sparks,” or hidden interests and talents.
“Help Your Children Develop Their Talents” is a brief, useful discussion of ways to help kids become engaged in outside interests.
“How to Recognize and Develop Your Children’s Special Talents” is directed at parents (and mentors) of gifted minority children.
“Hobbies and Special Talents/Interests for Children with ADD” offers tips for engaging ADD kids, but the ideas in the article apply equally to most young people.