Building relationships with the younger generation


I was once a writer for The Lily Review (Big Sister Corner) and wrote the following article which I believe fits very squarely here. I hope you enjoy it.

Recently, I was participating in a discussion on mentoring the youth and it occurred to those present that reaching out to the younger generation will require that we find a way of getting down to their level of thinking in order to build a rapport and understand them better. The youth today have unique mindsets that reflect their own experiences in the 21st century. They operate from a platform of high technology, faster access to information, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and greater freedom of expression, among other things. They don’t blindly and quietly accept everything handed down to them but often prod issues and ask tough questions. They are generally a lot more ambitious, adventurous and attracted by hype. They also tend to be impatient in their approach to life, but nonetheless eager to know and explore new territories. The basic question in our minds during that discussion was, how can we build meaningful relationships with the youth in order to influence the direction of their lives?

Too many times we have approached the youth with ‘ready-made answers’ to their problems, effectively imposing what we know on them without due regard to their own perceptions of life. It’s an age-old approach borrowed from previous generations that adults always and automatically know better so the youth have nothing to say or contribute. I have been guilty of this more than once and I have had to learn through experience that the youth need a more sensitive and practical approach that involves incorporating their views into decision making, for example. Offering them opportunities to do things on their own, even if they make serious mistakes, is another better approach that enhances their learning experience.

Being able to mingle easily with the youth is a plus for anyone trying to reach out to them. Imagine holding an outreach program in one of the slums in Nairobi and then they begin to speak sheng and you have absolutely no idea what they are trying to say! One needs to be able to adapt to their environment so as to get closer to them. Sometimes you have to create some form of entertainment, e.g. sports, drama or music to attract them even if the main agenda is to have a serious discussion on life issues like HIV/AIDS or dropping out of school.

This is a generation that is seeking and waiting for answers. They are hungry for someone to look at them twice, share knowledge and experience, listen to their dreams and visions and walk them down the path of wisdom. For the young men, this amounts to a need for fathers while the young women need mothers to nurture and point them in the right direction. I’m not just talking about the normal parenting that mothers and fathers do for their children. It is something that goes way beyond that and fosters a special kind of relationship. Learning experiences are shared freely and knowledge is passed on that enables the youth to overcome obstacles and get closer to their vision in life.

Are you a mentor to the youth? What has been your experience in connecting with them?



In my research, I have discovered that there are different types of mentoring relationships, determined by the kind of arrangement between the two parties – the mentor and the mentored.

First of all, there is Individual vs Group mentoring. Individual mentoring refers to a one-on-one relationship where focus is on one person at a time.

Group mentoring, on the other hand, refers to situations where more than one person is being mentored at a time. This happens a lot in the education and social spheres where a special mentoring program is created to achieve certain objectives in the lives of a group of people. The program may be run by an institution such as the government, a community organization, an NGO, or a school.

There is also Formal vs Informal mentoring. Formal mentoring occurs when there is a deliberate intent to learn, grow or develop wisdom through conversation (from It is usually more structured and organized, with each party being informed of their boundaries and expectations from the other party. In most cases the mentee is matched with a mentor according to needs, goals, expertise, experience and other factors determined in the mentoring program. Most youth mentoring programs are formal ones. Some people call it Planned mentoring.

Informal mentoring occurs without deliberate intent, as when you happen to listen to a radio program, motivational speaker, friend, or colleague at work and apply their advice or teaching. It usually happens just by chance, even without the mentor being aware. Some people call this Natural mentoring.

Mentoring can also be viewed in terms of context. There is career mentoring, commonly referred to as career coaching, which can occur at the workplace or in the context of work and career.

Mentoring for personal development is usually geared towards becoming a better person as a whole, in terms of character, attitude, and lifestyle. Life-skills training programs fall into this category.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of mentoring.

Next, we will look at the role of the mentor and the mentee.

Understanding the relationship

mentoring is like sowing precious seed

Are you being mentored? Do you find it difficult to navigate the relationship?

Mentoring is a relationship that needs to be nurtured properly by both parties. The first step to succeeding in a mentoring process is to understand the relationship.

The Mentor

Think of a mentor as a willing teacher who is also going through their own learning process, rather than as a guru who already knows everything and simply ‘talks down’ to his/her trainees. This helps the mentoring relationship to flow more easily and remain simple.

The mentor is there to help you get to where you are going, so it’s not just about criticizing, correcting or instructing. A mentor should be able to offer a helping hand in times of need, at times even sympathizing and empathizing with the mentee.

Do you see this in the person mentoring you? Share your thoughts….