What you don’t know can limit your growth and opportunity. That’s true for your school-age children, but it is especially true for your college age children. I was that first generation in college student who didn’t know how exactly to navigate a new institutional culture. I wish my parents had the foresight and wisdom to research and communicate what I would need to be successful. As it turns out, I had to learn it on my own. The challenge is that a lot of what I took for granted growing up was contrary to the most sustainable process. I write this to give parents a perspective that I now deliver to career coaching clients. Access multiple mentors, and utilize them often.
Why They Don’t Know
It starts with “stranger danger” and extends to a sense of self-protection and risk avoidance that all kids balance as an expression of their humility. That’s what you wanted. You wanted a child who is not overly sure of herself. One who doesn’t think she can talk her way out of anything. You wanted a child who is cautious and thoughtful. One who looks before she leaps, and double checks. You succeeded.
What you neglected was to scale this approach to the world into adulthood. Adulthood must come with the ability to determine the threat level, navigate risk, and reinforce safety protocols. Simply having you do it or having a chaperone to every life event is impractical. Your child may be confident in their ability, but that ability may not extend to social interactions where they do not enjoy at least comparable power.
Knowing the How
I have written elsewhere about the Qualifications of a Mentor, Initiating a Relationship, and My Mentor. Those posts were so long ago. Teach you children to discern between people who have their best interest, can deliver on promises, and have the capacity for great production. Teach them to assess the risk, and choose sustainably those who will be sustainable relationships for them.
I’m beginning a new series on What I Wish I Had Known About College that will correlate with an online training coming in the Fall. The challenge is as real as it was when I wrote the first post 4 years ago. It may be even more important with this new generation of college students you have raised.
Students today have access to so much information. The best schools provide so many resources and supports. Yet, our culture has not come to grips with what I call the Gate’s Doctrine. The Gate’s Doctrine is named for Bill Gates, and is my idea that the purpose of post-secondary school is to have something to do until you figure out how to achieve satisfaction in your life. It’s based on the premise that Bill Gates is not a billionaire because he wanted a great job and a comfortable living. He did not drop out of school because he did not value education. The Gate’s Doctrine: Engage in THEIR process even while learning how best to capitalize on YOUR ideas and opportunities. In short, many college students think that college is somehow linked to a job. They fail to realize that college is space to create, collaborate, and couple idea-by-idea. Mentors are catalysts and often the locomotive scaffolding for your student. Mentors have ideas and knowledge that are the engines. Mentors are excited because students are often the fuel.
Accepting the Offer
Every professor is not a potential mentor. Sadly, mentorship is not a required skill among college professors. But, even the most unskilled, yet competent professor can be of use within the framework of multiple mentors. The first activity of a mentor is simply to answer questions. It takes little effort, and is time-limited. Your students should ask every single question that comes to mind. This action accomplishes two things. First, it potentially answers a question needing an answer. Second, it assesses the capability and capacity of the professor to be a mentor. The offer to be a mentor is less often an explicit invitation, and more often a competent, clear, and thorough answer to a question–even better if the answer causes your student to see the problem in a new way.
The second subtle way mentors offer to work with your student is to share their research and scholarly production. Suggest that your student stay vigilant to identify their own interests and how those interests connect with the interests of their professors. It would have been exceptional if you and your student chose the school because of specific professors and their research agendas, but in the absence of that preparation, you still have the opportunity to connect with great mentors. Take that opportunity.
The Typical Engagement
As suggested, a typical engagement could be as short and inconspicuous as a phone conversation. Engagements vary from there to lab sessions, writing marathons, conference trips, or study abroad. The key feature is two-fold: 1) Consistent interaction, and 2) Production. Whatever the schedule, these two outcomes are your evidence of a successful mentoring relationship. These give you your start in training your child, Consistency and Production. Model and expect a consistent approach to daily life. Engender and promote production as evidence of creativity, intelligence, and emotional competence.