Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Mentoring Children and the Youth (Part 1)

          Those of us who are over 30 years old belong to the minority in the Philippine population of about 107 million people as of 2018.  Seventy percent of the population belong to what admirers of our demographic dividend refer to as a “young and growing population.”  Whether as parents, educators, managers and leaders of organizations, those of us who belong to the minority have a serious obligation to mentor children and the youth towards maturation so that they can be truly assets for the building of a progressive, sustainable and inclusive society.  We are fortunate to have received some very useful guidelines in carrying out this task of mentoring the young in a recent document from the Vatican that was the result of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment held in 2018.

         In the business world today, it is becoming fashionable for older and more experienced executives and managers to take formal courses on business coaching so that they can help their younger counterparts to grow in both knowledge and wisdom as future leaders of organizations.  This reminds me of what some of us graduate students at Harvard were asked to undertake as a part-time job as we were pursuing our doctoral programs.  We were asked to mentor the undergraduates to help them mature as professionals in their respective chosen careers.  This process of mentoring was not limited to academic counselling or advice but had to do with the whole-person development of the young who were our mentees.  In educational history of the West, this can be traced at least to the time of the Greek philosophers who had their respective disciples whom they tutored in their respective philosophical schools.  Of course, centuries later, the supreme model of mentoring was the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ, who patiently taught His twelve apostles as well as his disciples about the life-giving doctrine of the Christian faith.  In more recent times, the formal educational model of mentoring can be traced to the English universities, Oxford and Cambridge, which introduced a structural approach in which in the so-called “houses” or residential colleges, the university students lived together with the “masters” who were their tutors.  This was the academic model replicated by the Ivy League colleges in the U.S., such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton in the United States.

         The work that mentors or tutors undertake is very well described in the Document from the Synod of Bishops: “In order to undertake a true journey of maturation, the young need authoritative adults.  In its etymological meaning, auctoritas indicates the capacity to cause to grow.  It does not express the idea of a directive power, but of a real generative force.  When Jesus encountered the young, in whatever state and condition they might find themselves, even if they were dead, in one way or another he said to them: ‘Arise! Grow!’  And his word brought about what he was saying.  In the episode of the healing of the possessed epileptic, which evokes so many of the forms of alienation experienced by young people today, it seems clear that Jesus stretches out his hand not to take away freedom but to activate it, to liberate it.  Jesus fully exercises his authority:  he wants nothing other than the growth of the young person, without a trace of possessiveness, manipulation or seduction.”

         This very important advice to parents, teachers, managers and leaders of organizations reminds me of what I was told by my own mentors when as a young college graduate, I was preparing for a lifetime vocation as an educator.  I was told that the etymology of education is “educare” which in Latin means to draw out.  A good teacher or educator does not presume to be a fully loaded container pouring out his or her overflowing wisdom and knowledge into empty vessels who are his or her pupils or students.  If he or she is to be an effective teacher, he or she must realize that the educational process is one of drawing out from the student the unlimited potentials inherent in every human being of growing in knowledge and wisdom.  No one is an empty vessel.  That is why I got used to what is called the Socratic method which is to ask a lot of questions in the process of leading the students to arrive at conclusions on their own.  This is the principle behind the “case method” which was popularized by the Harvard Business School.  Every case is a learning tool which draws out from the students a lot of the potential knowledge already inherent in his intellect and experiences. 

         The parent, educator or mentor of today must be very conscious of the nature of the environment in which children and the youth live in this third millennium.  The Document from the Synod of Bishops has a very realistic description of this environment: “In the modern world, marked by an ever more evident pluralism and by an ever wider range of possible options, the theme of choices arises with particular force at a variety of levels, especially in the face of life journeys that are less and less linear and marked by great precariousness.  Often the young oscillate between approaches as extreme as they are ingenuous:  from considering themselves in thrall to a predetermined and inexorable destiny, to finding themselves overwhelmed by an abstract ideal of excellence, within a framework of unregulated and violent competition.” (To be continued)