Tim Elmore shared the following story with Tripp Atkinson:
Two years ago, our daughter Bethany turned thirteen. Prior to her birthday, we had already noticed signs of her becoming a teenager. There was a hint of an independent spirit; she had formed definite opinions on every topic; she requested a cell phone and a personal television for her room; public kisses from dad were embarrassing; and she was already shaving her legs! (Aren’t girls supposed to wait until after they get married to do that?)
Because my wife, Pam, and I recognized the significance of this time in her life, we decided to do something to help her transition well into womanhood. In Jewish culture, young men and women experience a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah. These celebrations are designed to be a rite of passage into adulthood. In America, most of us have no such ceremony. Our closest event is getting a driver’s license or high school diploma. Consequently, boys grow older, but often don’t grow up. Girls want the privileges that come with age, but not the responsibilities that go with it. Pam and I decided to plan a significant year for Bethany that would enable her to be ready for a life of responsibility and leadership.
We sat down with Bethany, and selected six women whom we would ask to be one-day mentors for her. Over the next year, these women met with our daughter and let her shadow them for a day. They let her watch them at work, at home or on a trip. During that day, each of them shared a “life message” with Bethany. A message they wish someone had shared with them when they were 13, but no one did.
What happened was amazing. These women took our idea to a whole new level. Sara, a nurse, knew that Bethany was considering becoming a nurse, as well. So she took her to a hospital maternity ward and the two of them spent the day helping mothers give birth to babies. That afternoon, Sara took Bethany to a class she taught for teenage mothers, many of them unwed mothers. At the close of the day, Sara’s life message for Bethany revolved around abstinence. (You can imagine that her message got through to Bethany much better than my lecture on the subject!)
Holly took Bethany on a one-day mission trip to urban Atlanta, where she worked with under-privileged kids who live in government housing. Betsy, a flight attendant, surprised Bethany by flying her up to New York City, months after the September 11th attacks. One after another, these ladies invested in our “little girl” one day at a time, for a year. They discussed topics like radical integrity, service, making your life an adventure and how to use her influence for noble purposes.
These women’s voices still ring in Bethany’s ears. Their messages weren’t different than ours, but their voices were. Over the year, we noticed Bethany gaining confidence. She became secure when making difficult choices and experienced an increasing influence with her peers. We believe this community of mentors solidified our values in the home.
The year came to a climax when we invited all six of these mentors to our home for a dinner party. We had four objectives at this party. First, we wanted these women to meet each other and see the others who were participating in this special year. Second, we wanted to say thank you for their investment in our daughter. Third, we wanted Bethany to have a chance at the end of the year to share with them the lasting lessons that she learned from them as they spent time together. Finally, we wanted to spend the evening offering a word of encouragement to Bethany—not only from mom and dad, but from six older females who were models of the kind of life she wanted to live as she grew into adulthood.
Dinnertime was a fun time of sharing. Many of the ladies did not know each other, and only had Bethany as a common ground at first. It was a great time for Bethany to sit down again with adults and host conversation with adults. Following dinner, we moved into our family room, where Bethany took some cards out. On the cards, she had written personal thank you notes to these women, sharing specific things she had learned from each of them. It was a meaningful time for the women, but especially good for Bethany who had to put into words the value she had gained from their lives.
As they left that night, Bethany presented them with a gift, once again to express our thanks to them for such a valuable investment in her young life. The year and that particular night accomplished everything we hoped it would, as we planned it months before. I had to laugh as I tucked my young son, Jonathan, into bed that night. Crawling under the covers, he told me: “Dad, I already know the six guys I want to mentor me when I turn thirteen.”
Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders. Elmore has written more than 25 books, including the best-selling Habitudes: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, Life Giving Mentors and Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child, and Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. Check out his ministry at growingleaders.com.
What an incredible gift! A big value for us in Student Ministries is for students (by the time they graduate) to have a relationship with 5-6 adults who can offer them spiritual encouragement and accountability throughout college. I have seen, and research supports the fact that students that have healthy spiritual relationships with at least five adults are more likely to prosper emotionally and spiritually beyond high school. Of course it is ideal if parents, who have the responsibility to be the primary spiritual influence in their student’s life, are two of those five relationships.
I want to challenge every parent to give this mentorship gift to their student. I recommend that this be done on or
around the 13th birthday, and be used as a “milestone” as students enter the teenage years. Even if students are older than 13, this is an invaluable gift to be given before students graduate high school.
I have some ideas about who you could include in your “6” and how to make this process even more memorable for your student. Please talk to me about this. I would be honored to help you give your students a gift that will keep on giving!