Students with ADHD face unique challenges in their lives, both academic and social. Finding a mentor can be challenging for any parent, but if you use all of the resources at your disposal, you can find a mentor who will mesh well with your teenager.
Mentors Matter to Kids with ADHD
Going through life with ADHD can be a huge struggle, especially as the normal complications associated with being a teenager come into play. Having a mentor during this challenging time can make a huge difference in the life of an adolescent. Teenagers with ADHD need a mentor who understands the challenges of going through life with this chronic condition. They need someone who can be loving yet firm while setting realistic goals for the mentoring relationship. Finally, teenagers with ADHD need a mentor who can empower them and develop their self-confidence.
Finding a Mentor
The best place to start looking for a mentor is as close to home and school as possible. Sometimes, local school coaches are willing to take on this role. However, keep in mind that most people who coach sports already have a full plate that includes practices, games and their families. When you are looking for a mentor for your ADHD teenager, you want to find someone who has the time to devote to him or her.
In some cases, a better place to start is your local place of worship; a lot of churches have mentoring programs you can tap into. The benefit of this strategy is that your teenager may already know the person at least casually, which can smooth the way for a better mentoring relationship.
Another option is to go through the National Mentoring Partnership. This organization allows you to locate mentoring groups in your community by filtering your online search according to distance from your home and age groups served. It also allows you to limit your search to different factors that may apply to your ADHD teenager's situation, such as academically at-risk or gifted.
Another option is the Eye to Eye organization, which operates in schools and communities in about 20 states. This organization is focused on providing mentoring and camp experiences to students with ADHD or other learning disabilities.
Exploring Community Service Options
Sometimes finding a great mentor means looking for opportunities for your teenager to volunteer and meet adults who are interested in the same activities he/she is passionate about. Bonding over common interests is a proven way to help your child find and build a relationship with a mentor.
If your teenager doesn't have a special area of interest, you may need to make some suggestions based on your own observations of what he/she likes, such as animals. For example, local animal shelters and rescue organizations are usually looking for volunteers to come in and clean the facility, feed and interact with the animals or even take dogs for walks under supervision. It is quite possible that after a while, one of the volunteer supervisors would be willing to serve as your teenager's mentor. That mentoring experiencing may turn out to be a life-changing one for your child when it takes place in the context of something he/she already cares about.
If your teenager likes to do things with his/her hands, volunteering for a group like Habitat for Humanity may be a good fit. He/she can hammer and paint and possibly learn some carpentry skills. In a group like Habitat for Humanity, your teenager with ADHD will have the chance to meet a lot of different people in your community, including professional tradesmen and retirees. He/she may find someone to connect with and who would also be willing to serve as a mentor.
Reaching Out to Family and Friends
When all else fails, look for a mentor within your circle of family and friends. One benefit associated with this approach is that the mentor will be someone you already know. As a result, both you and your teenager may feel more comfortable. Another benefit is that the relationship between your teenager and the family member or friend doesn't necessarily have to begin as an obvious mentor/mentee relationship; it can grow into that over time.
If you have family close by, talk to your siblings or parents about why your child needs a mentor. Discuss what your teenager with ADHD is struggling with, as well as what he/she is interested in. A good mentor can be an aunt, uncle or even a grandparent or an older cousin. Again, keep in mind that children with ADHD need mentors who are loving, but they also need those who will be firm with them about their mentoring expectations. So if you choose a mentor from your family circle, you want to be sure to talk with him or her about the difference between being, for example, just an uncle, to being an uncle and a mentor.
Family friends are good options for locating mentors as well. But again, just like with any other avenue you take to find your ADHD teenager a mentor, you want to make sure that the friend can spend enough one-on-one time with him or her on a regular basis. At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, you may want to go on outings with the friend/mentor and your teenager. If you find you're not comfortable leaving the friend and your teenager alone together, obviously he or she is not a good choice.
Here's another consideration to keep in mind when asking family members or friends to be mentors: Do they have a child or grandchild the same age as your teenager? Sometimes that can become an issue within the family, so you want to be sure to have an open and honest conversation about how the mentor's child or grandchild will react to this new relationship.
As you and your teenager start the process of finding a mentor, never allow anyone who has not been thoroughly checked out by the church, school or organization he/she is volunteering with to work your with child. When you approach anyone or any organization looking for a mentor, be sure to ask about their process for clearing prospective mentors. You want to be sure mentors have been fingerprinted and screened by law enforcement and crosschecked with sex offender's registries. Ask about character references and if mentors have to complete a training program before they're eligible to participate.
Ask Tough Questions
Even when approaching family or close friends as mentors, you always need to be vigilant when it comes to protecting the safety of your teenager. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions! Talk to them about any experience they may have had working with children or teenagers. For example, were they a Boy Scout or Girl Scout leader? A Sunday school teacher? A coach of a team?
If prospective mentors have had experience with children, talk to the parents of those children or shadow coaches at games. Finally, don't be afraid to check them against the sex offender registry. Your teenager's safety should be your first priority. Don't be afraid to turn down a potential mentor if anything about him or her makes you uncomfortable.