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Talking to Your Mentee about Big Issues

Lately, it seems like every day brings major headline news around political divisiveness, natural disasters, the pandemic, extreme wealth inequities, violence, and other stories of suffering. We as adults are overwhelmed, and it’s sometimes easy to forget how confusing and daunting this is for our mentees. Youth may need help understanding and processing the information they’re encountering. Luckily, your Seedling trainings have given you the tools necessary for talking with your mentee about big issues in age and developmentally appropriate ways.

Youth are smart and observant.

They notice how things affect those around them. You are their trusted friend, and if they bring up a topic with you, it’s because they feel comfortable looking to you for clarity. They want to explore and understand this topic with your help. This should be a conversation, not a monologue, and is not the time for your opinion on the topic. Stick to basic facts as appropriate, and keep asking them questions to help them explore their own views. 

It's okay to admit you don't know all the answers.

Here are some ways that you can acknowledge you don’t know everything without shutting down the conversation. Remember, you’re still building trust, so follow-through is essential!

  • “Wow, that’s a big topic. I need a minute to think about how I can best answer that.” 
  • “That’s a really great question, and I’m not sure that it’s something I can answer in one conversation — we might have to talk about it over a few visits. Is that ok with you?” 
  • “I really want to put some thought into giving you the best answer I can on that subject. Can I think about it and we can talk more about it during our next visit?” 

Meet them where they are and follow their lead.

Keep it at their comprehension level. Of course, even within age and grade levels, kids differ. You know where your mentee is developmentally. The important thing is to follow their lead — you don’t need to explain minute details if they’re just asking big picture questions. If they seem satisfied with an answer and change topics, it is safe to move on. 

Find out what their thoughts and feelings are on the subject.

They might be asking about a topic because they are feeling anxious or confused. Maybe they’re asking you COVID-related questions because they’re worried their family might get sick. Maybe they saw a news story about a hurricane and are wondering if that could happen here. Ask them how they feel and what they think about the topic. Give them plenty of space to share. Reassure them as necessary and appropriate. 

Check with your Mentor Director.

If your mentee asks you something that leaves you wondering how to respond, tell them you’d like some time to think about it and you’d like to revisit the topic at your next meeting. After your meeting, call or email your Mentor Director and discuss your concerns with them. Your Mentor Director will help guide you through the best way to handle the questions so that during your next meeting, you can answer your mentee in the best age and developmentally appropriate way possible.

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