I’ve known incredibly talented kids. Kids who are gifted thinkers, musicians, poets, athletes, and artists. Kids with resourceful ways of dealing with their world. Kids who rise above circumstances the rest of us couldn’t even imagine.
And I’ve known troubled kids. Kids with enormous chips on their shoulders. Angry kids. Sad kids. Lost kids. Somehow, most seem to make it with the help of family, friends, and caring adults.
All of these kids have their own stories. They have skills to share and tips to dole out to anyone willing to listen.
Here’s some not-very-surprising news. There are plenty of younger kids who want to listen.
High school teens have much to share with younger kids and much to gain by doing so. Younger kids look up to older teens, crave the attention, and stand to learn much-needed skills. Older teens gain maturity and insight when they act as role models.
If you’re a high school student, here are some ways you can help elementary- and middle-school kids, while in the meantime giving your own continued growth a boost.
- Be a mentor. Acting as a guide, a big brother or sister, a tutor, or a coach is a meaningful and rewarding opportunity. It can be difficult, but the rewards to both the mentor and the protégé are many. Patience. Persistence. Courage. Helpfulness. Self-respect. Independence.
- Share your talents. Everyone has talents. Maybe academic, maybe athletic, maybe mechanical, maybe technical, maybe creative. Hone your own skills and make yourself available to others who want to learn. Amazing what you can teach. Equally amazing what you learn while you teach. (Any teacher will tell you that.)
- Share your values. Younger kids are defining who they are, what they believe, and what they value. Just by being yourself, you show your own values – honesty in relationships, for instance, or responsibility to teammates, respect for classmates and teachers, courage in the face of difficult challenges, or personal integrity.
- Listen. Everyone likes to feel listened to. Be a good listener when you’re with younger kids. Don’t try to dominate each conversation. Sometimes kids figure out their own issues as they’re talking with someone who’s genuinely listening.
- Show how to study. School is important. Show how you’ve managed your study time, how you’ve figured out the best ways to improve grades. Read with them. Give them the math tips you’ve figured out. Tell them about the importance of class participation.
- Show how to practice. Particularly important for coaching younger kids in sports or performing arts. Talk about the significance of disciplined practice . Show how disciplined practice paid off for you.
- Show how to get homework done. Can’t play on a team or participate in a club if you don’t keep your grades up. Share your own stories about how you’ve learned that lesson. Give tips about ways to get the homework done – and turned in – so you can spend time doing what you really love.
- Show how to organize. Organization is the basic success skill for school and for the rest of life. Best to learn it early. Show how you organize your responsibilities, your hobbies, your school routine, your free time.
- Show how to manage time. School presents lots of challenges, lots of opportunities, and lots of choices. It’s been my experience that the most successful students are also the ones who are involved in the most activities. How do they do it? The answer is almost always the same: they’ve learned how to manage their time , how to set up helpful and healthy routines, how to set goals, and how to plan ahead.
- Show the connection between curricular and extracurricular activities. Many kids live for their extracurriculars and leave the classroom to fend for itself. Big mistake. The two are inextricably linked. The discipline you learn on the basketball team is directly transferrable to English or math class. The creative problem-solving you foster in your algebra class fits in exactly with your expose for the school newspaper.
Help a younger kid. Be part of someone else’s support system. Pay it forward by doing it in the name of the role models who’ve helped you. I tell my students to be a godsend to someone today and every day. No better time to start than now with the new school year just around the corner.