Many of us were lucky enough to have had a special person in our youth who influenced us in significant ways–whether it as a teacher, coach, clergy member, best friend’s mother, or wise older teen who lived next door. Those people served as mentors, and possibly had an impact on who we later became and the direction we chose for our lives.
Today, a growing number of adoption agencies, support groups, and counseling services are incorporating mentoring programs into their range of services. These mentors are teen and adult adoptees who have confronted firsthand the questions, feelings, and experiences that their younger “mentees” now face. (For children and teens who were adopted internationally, it’s helpful–and healing–to have a mentor of the same race or culture.)
Though adoptive parents are encouraged to communicate with their children about adoption, many adopted teenagers are reluctant to share their innermost feelings, for fear of hurting their families. Some teens may not have the words to describe how they feel. A mentor often understands in a way that parents cannot, making a mentor a more likely confidante. And as teens communicate with mentors, and have their feelings validated, it often becomes easier for them to talk with their parents.
Teen Role Models
In some cases, adopted teens are mentors themselves. At The Center for Adoption Support and Education’s annual Kids Adoption Network Conference, teens assist in children’s workshops and sometimes share their adoption stories in group discussions. Carol, 16, a longtime conference participant, says, “It’s awesome to talk to the younger children–I feel so much compassion for them. I also like knowing that, while I still have my own fears and doubts, I can help adopted kids feel proud of who they are.”
Jane Brown, a social worker and adoption education, is the creator of a program called Adoption Playshops for Children, which serves kids ages five to 13. During the “playshops,” adult adoptees play with children, share glimpses of their won childhoods, and talk about their current lives. “Junior mentors”–preteens and teens–also play an important role, by helping out with kids, talking with them informally, and serving as role models. What’s best, Brown says, is that teens learn that their life experiences can be helpful to young adoptees.
All mentors benefit from their ability to give of themselves. Whether it’s through knowing they’ve helped someone or the joy of experiencing a caring bond, mentors can achieve personal growth and fulfillment.