Okay, so you’ve decided to mentor a middle school boy, his parents have given you their blessing, and the boy has agreed to begin mentoring with you. Now what? How do you actually pull it off?
I’ve been mentoring middle school boys on a one-on-one basis for about five years. I’ve learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work for mentoring boys that age. Here are some of the nitty-gritty details that I have found work best for a mentoring meeting (which I often refer to as a “one-on-one”):
Frequency: If I am in an official mentoring relationship with a student, I try to meet with him once a month. Anything more frequent becomes difficult to work out logistically. Anything less frequent and you struggle to get into a rhythm.
Day: I try to meet with students on Sunday afternoons. This works best for my schedule and students are usually available at that time. Trying to do mentoring during the schoolwork gets hairy with sports and homework. That being said, the day you choose ultimately depends on what works best for you and the student.
Driving: Depending on your comfort level, the student’s parents, and the youth ministry policies at your particular church, you can either have a student get dropped off somewhere and meet him there or pick him up at his house to take him somewhere.
Location: My go-to location for one-on-ones is the mall. Malls work well because they are in a public place, it’s a relatively comfortable location to talk to someone, and it’s a place that teenagers are used to hanging out at.
Length: I set aside about two hours to meet with a student. Don’t panic! We’re not sitting down having face-to-face conversation for the entire time.
Structure: This is where the rubber meets the road. Here’s how I structure a mentoring meeting with a student, although there are many different ways to do this. The structure is flexible and never works exactly as written below, but if I’m meeting a student at a mall we’ll often…
- (10 minutes) Begin by going to the food court and grabbing a meal or a snack to eat. Conversation flows more easily with food.
- (15 minutes) Sit down and start small talk—How was your week? How did your favorite football team do yesterday? What’s coming up in your life?
- (25 minutes) Transition into deeper conversation—This is usually something I ask a student about up-front during our first mentoring meeting. I ask him if there’s anything in particular that he’d like to talk about at a deeper level. About 40% of the time he’ll throw out a suggestion and about 60% of the time his mind can’t handle a question like that and he “can’t think of anything.” If he doesn’t have any ideas for deeper conversation topics, I take something that comes up in small talk and exploit that to have a deeper conversation. That’s not easy to do, but it comes with practice and good listening skills!
- (5 minutes) Pray for and with the student. I usually ask him what I can pray for related to him, and share one thing he can pray for related to me. Then we each take turns praying for each other.
- (5 minutes) Take a bathroom break because you’ve both just consumed a lot of soda in the last 40 minutes.
- (30 minutes) Walk around the mall and talk about whatever randomly comes up. One student and I always go to the Apple Store, then to the store next door to play with their synthetic sand. Another student always liked going to the store with board games. If you’re at a mall, you’ve got lots of options.
- If you toss in 15 minutes of driving on both ends of your meeting, that gives you a total of two hours.
Here are two objections you may have:
- I don’t live near a mall so I can’t use your idea. I know I am spoiled with 2 nice malls within about 10 minutes of my church building. You may live in a small town with no malls nearby. If that’s you, you’re going to have to be extra creative. Is there a Target, Wal-Mart, or some other big store or other public place nearby that you could meet at?
- Your meeting structure includes 40 minutes of talking. That’s a lot of conversation time for a middle school boy! I agree. That’s one reason why I carefully choose the students I mentor in this way. I usually look for students who seem ready to handle a deeper conversation. Plus, having conversations with middle school boys can be a learned skill. Here are some things I have written that can help you have conversations with middle school boys:Talking to Teenage Guys: 10 Conversation Tips and Topics
A Proven Way to Have Awesome Conversations with Middle School Boys, Part 1
A Proven Way to Have Awesome Conversations with Middle School Boys, Part 2
At the risk of sounding repetitive, a successful mentoring meeting can happen one of a million different ways. The most important thing is that you and the student are fully engaged during your meetings. I have shared the ideas that work for me, but you may find that something different works for you and your student(s). At the least, hopefully my ideas can get you thinking about what you can do to have awesome one-on-ones with the middle school boys you’re mentoring!