Following is an excerpt on Finding Mentors from Writing Your Own Script: A Parent’s Role in the Gifted Child’s Social Development
Adults, young adults, and older youths can be great resources for gifted and 2e children. Many older people are thrilled to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation. Moreover, if their interests are unusual as well, they may be happy to have someone to share them with. Children may prefer practicing relationship skills with an adult who has more maturity, wider experience leading to more social flexibility, and less stringent behavioral expectations. Many adults will have skills or talents that have been long buried under the responsibilities of adulthood; mentoring a young person gives them an opportunity to revisit their lapsed passions.
So, how do you find a mentor?
Identify your goals
Consider why you want a mentor. What you think would be a good fit for your child? Does your child want a mentor? What do you and your child hope to get out of this relationship? Do you want to address a specific topic or are you looking for an adult friend and role model? Do you want someone who can open the door to a field or community? The answers will help you determine your direction (or directions), as one person may serve the role in multiple areas or multiple mentors may be what you need.
You will also want to talk with your child and use some of your own intuition to determine whether someone male or female, young or old, and with particular areas of expertise or skills would fit best. Whatever you decide, do keep an open mind. Do not pass up an otherwise perfect opportunity simply because the right person has the wrong number of X chromosomes!
Do your homework
What groups or communities exist in your area? Is there a 4-H program, a Boys & Girls Club, a hiking meet-up, a gem society, a fiber arts guild? What about cosplay, a library group, or a faith-based organization? If there is nothing local, try online. If your child is interested in edible plants, see if the local park district offers guided walks. Perhaps volunteering at a museum or with a local animal shelter will help your child make contact with others who share her interests. If you cannot find an obvious fit for your child, or your desert community does not have a community ski team, you will have to research further. For example, a college or university in the area may have a youth program, or they may be able to recommend a tutor who can teach your child mathematics while geeking out over Doctor Who and also serving as a social skills role model when she takes your child to play Magic: The Gathering at the gaming club.
Keep in mind that not only do children’s interests change over time, but so does the community. Circle back around from time to time to see if anything (or anyone) new has appeared on the horizon.
If you do all of this work and determine that no one within a reasonable distance can fill the role of mentor, you will have to take your research online. Once you reach that level, you can continue searching online for local resources, while looking farther afield. Distance is not necessarily a limiting factor in mentor or any other relationships in our global community. Specialized websites, topical discussion lists, and relevant blogs offer opportunities to interact with experts and enthusiasts, and on the internet, if you ask a good question, nobody knows you are only nine years old.
Reach out and touch someone
Once you have narrowed down your options, make a phone call, send an email, yell across the back fence, or approach a potential mentor or a common acquaintance. Check with local colleges or universities where a professor or an eager student might be available. Some parents will reach out to college departments to inquire about courses their child can sit in on, or students who would like to earn pocket money spending time discussing theoretical physics with a 14- year-old. Others might befriend a professor by inviting them for dinner and conversation.
Using the internet to find local or specific resources is not much different from finding a mentor in person. Email, Skype, and Google Hangouts are all opportunities to appropriately approach and meet with mentors. Contacting someone from out of the blue, even if they are rock-star-famous, is no longer considered impolite. They may not reply to your missives, but then again, they just might. Be polite and recognize that you are asking them for something, and their time is valuable. You should find a way to make sure the relationship is mutually beneficial, which could mean financial compensation, or simply having a young person who looks up to them and contributes to the discussions. Keep in mind that if your child cannot behave appropriately, do not expect the mentor to waste her time while your child acts out or misbehaves. Consider that your child’s acting out may actually be a signal that she is not ready for this relationship or that it is not a good fit. Call it quits when it is time to call it quits. Some mentor relationships will be very brief, while others may last years.
Attend a meeting or event
Rather than seeking out a specific individual with whom to connect, you might take your child to an event that interests him. For example, a stargazing club for the junior astronomer could be a fun way to spend time with your child, let him learn about his topic of choice, and allow him to get to know people a little at a time. Local shows for small planes, antiques, collectible dolls, and classic cars also attract many of the same people again and again. Eventually, you will recognize others and have a chance to interact. Ask if youth versions of the activities are offered, such as youth gardener programs or monthly events at the science museum, where your child can get involved. Even if your child has advanced knowledge in a given subject, many of these programs are designed to value that advanced knowledge rather than squash down the outliers because the central premise is learning about the subject matter rather than being with age peers. That shift of focus from age to interest moves the resentfulness of others for those who are “ahead” of them into appreciation for what they can add. The right kind of encouragement goes a long way and can be a huge benefit of having a mentor, whether formal or informal.
Sometimes, through idle conversation, you will come across someone who can be a resource. You might be at a community event or standing in line at the grocery store, or it could turn out that your friend’s cousin knows someone across town who happens to work in a related field and would love to meet your child. Slightly more directed opportunities include intentionally seeking activities your child enjoys and getting to know others through this common interest. For example, a young person who spends a great deal of time volunteering at the soup kitchen or local Head Start program will meet adults who share her passion for helping others. Regular visits to the county animal shelter provide an opportunity to learn about animal care, veterinary work, and local government resources, as well as meet other people interested or working in those areas.
You may be surprised at all the potential resources that you find. Just keep your eyes and ears open.
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Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson, MFT are also co-authors of Making the Choice:When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child