A few months back I was getting my sons bike fixed at a local bike shop when the teenager behind the counter who was serving me gave me a look of recognition. He said, “Hey, aren’t you that girl who gives a shit?”
Oh my God I laughed. I told him that was probably one of the best one liners I had heard in a long time and I now use it as my Twitter handle. The teenager explained that he remembered me from the fall when I approached them on the bare piece of pavement where they were skateboarding. I totally remembered him in that moment.
I noticed that every day on this bare piece of pavement a new skateboarding rail would be constructed overnight. I thought it was so awesome and I decided to approach the teens to ask them what made them show up every day to construct this park. You have to image at the same time that I am in my 30s so I knew by the looks on their faces that they thought I was coming over to shut them down. As I continued to approach them, I pulled out my microphone and said, “Excuse me, would you guys mind if I asked you a few questions about your skate park because I think it is amazing!”
Such a simple gesture but I could see that they were in shock over the fact that I cared about their little endeavour.
The same young teenager who was waiting on me at the bike shop was one of those teenagers. I learned so much from them in that short exchange. I asked them why they were creating a park if they already had one at the local recreation centre. They responded by telling me that the park was overrun my small kids who were just learning how to skate and they didn’t want to intimidate or discourage the younger kids from gaining skills. I then asked them about the skate bowl that was in the park down town and they continued to explain that even though they were grateful for the bowl it was 30 years old and that skateboarding has changed. The youth got into more detail about how they needed more than just a bowl to gain skills in order to skate competitively and that the bowl needed to be grouted. In order to do this they had all pitched in their own money to hire their friend who worked in construction to complete the task. Hearing this I was amazed at the amount of ownership these young people took in regards to their spaces and how excited they were to share their plans with me.
These youth even went as far as to think out a business plan for the day they get their dream skate park and it included ways to grow the economy and bring tourism to the city.
I was extremely impressed and as I started to gather my things to walk home one of the youth bluntly stated, “You know, you are the first person to ever ask us about this?”
“Really?!” I responded quite shocked. “Nobody, has ever asked you about this…ever?” All the teens shook their heads, “No.”
“Well,” I encouraged them, “Don’t let me be the last. Please tell more adults about your plans and if I can help you in any way I will.”
With that I walked away and unbeknown to me I had gain the title, the girl who gives a shit.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the various mentors I have had in my life and what made them stand out from others and the foundation simple.
- They listened. This many seem obvious but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t take the time to listen to youth. Instead of projecting what you think is best for them take the time to really listen to what they need instead of what you think they need.
- They spoke to me with respect. Youth are smart and they know when they are being patronised and nobody likes that feeling. Some adults don’t know how to talk to teenagers because they think there is “specific” way to speak to them. There is no specific way to speak to teenagers, you just need to authentically respect them.
- They encouraged. When you are in junior high and high school life can be extremely overwhelming. You are trying to learn to become an adult but without the right role models this can be difficult. Think of how easily we get down on ourselves as adults and how great it feels when someone reminds us of our strength. Mentors are essential promoting self-confidence in their mentee. Remind them that even if it’s difficult they are doing a great job and that everyone gets overwhelmed sometimes.
- They were realistic. That being said being a mentor is not always about being positive and sometimes mentees need a reality check. It can be difficult and sometimes people don’t want to change or hear what you have to say so be patient and remind them that it is constructive feedback. Try not to be too much of a devil’s advocate but more of a friend with suggestions that might make them question their choices. Usually we all have the answers within ourselves we just need someone to help us hear that inner truth.
- They were compassionate. In order to gain trust with people you need to show compassion for the many life situations that they have been handed and how it has shaped their world both externally and internally. Try to see through their lens so that you can best be there for them in the way that they need.
These are just few ways in which you can give back to youth who are looking for mentors in their lives. Knowledge is invaluable and so are relationships build on a trusted foundation. You could be the next person who gives a shit in the life of a youth who needs you. Good luck on your journey.
Here is a beautiful speech that a youth prepared for me this year. I will cherish it always. Here’s to giving a shit..haha.