Focus on the positive: An assets-based approach to youth mentoring

How you approach a young person makes a difference. This article explores how adults can build on youth strengths rather than focusing on problems.

The media frequently tells us about the various problems youth face – juvenile crime, experimenting with substances, academic problems, gang involvement – the list goes on. It is easy for adults to focus on trying to solve these problems rather than focus on the positives. A strength-based or asset-based approach takes us from conversations that are centered on fixing what is wrong to conversations that are more hopeful and focused on building on the good that is already present. In many cases, problems are resolved as a person builds on their strengths.

In mentoring, an assets-based approach starts with getting to know your mentee. Make time for conversations to learn about his gifts, talents and resources. The goal is to build on these assets. For instance, if your mentee is athletic you might encourage participation is sports. Sports provide many opportunities for personal growth and building positive relationships. In another example, a mentor might notice how much her mentee likes and cares for animals. To build on this asset the mentor can work with her mentee to find volunteer opportunities at a local animal shelter. An assets-based approach allows us to build on what is good, rather than trying to fix what is not working as well.

Michigan State University Extension says that mentors can help young people discover their strengths and build on them. Compliments help reinforce the positive and can contribute to increased confidence. Find opportunities to point out the many positive attributes your mentee possesses. In addition to focusing on assets that already exist, you can help your mentee buid new assets. The Search Institute provides tools for adults to use to support young people in building developmental assets. Developmental assets are experiences and qualities that are linked to a successful transition to adulthood. For more ideas, check out the Search Institute’s asset bulding ideas.

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