(Keaton and his mentor, George)
By Qin Sun Stubis
When they first arrive in a little bundle, children are helpless, vulnerable and fragile. Their sole lifelines are those who have brought them into this world, and will give them food, warmth, comfort, and care.
Luckily, most young parents are eager to serve all these roles after nine patient months of waiting: Holding a swaddled newborn in their arms, they feel loving and wanted–the most important people in the child’s life. And, they are.
As children grow, however, so does their confidence, independence, and curiosity. Soon enough they’re transformed into little toddling question marks: “Why this?” “Why not?” “How come?” Sometimes they have more “whys” than we have time and patience to answer. Busy parents often feel overwhelmed. Irritated adults sometimes resort to bellowing commands like, “Just do what I said!” We want to guide and teach our kids, but as they get older, we start to wonder whether their questions are about learning, and worry that they’re just figuring out how to avoid adult authority.
It’s essential for parents to understand that kids are not just being defiant. Testing our boundaries is a normal part of growing up, and since they know us better than any other adults, they learn, just like our best friends and other family members, how to push our buttons.
How can we continue to make sure our kids learn the kind of important life lessons they can only get from adults and reinforce the importance of authority? One way is to make sure they interact with the real world where other kind, respectable grownups can also nurture their young minds with intelligent answers and explanations.
Yes, I’m talking about getting mentors for our kids. It’s an excellent way for them to be with other adults outside school and home environment and see things in a more objective and mature way. Instead of whining to get what they want, they must learn what the social norms are by finding out under different circumstances.
I consider myself to be very lucky living in Great Neck, New York, where the 109-year-old Alert Fire Company has been sponsoring a Juniors Volunteer Program for the past 25 years. My son Keaton is fortunate enough to be part of it. Being a junior firefighter for two years has changed him from a shy and undeveloped teenager into a confident, brave and outspoken young man–all thanks to my friends, Fire Chief Willie Peterson and the Juniors program leader, ex-Chief George Motchkavitz.
Willie was the one who suggested that Keaton join the Juniors program after he learned that I was looking for a volunteer program to help him grow. “Come to the fire house,” Willie said. “Let him try out. George will take care of him.” George is one of the original founders of the Juniors program.
Having been in the fire company for almost 40 years, he is also a decorated veteran, awarded with 13 medals for bravery and numerous certifications and titles. He is the man everyone looks up to in the fire house.
Having grown up with a father and many uncles who were firemen, George knows the importance of role models, and how to be one himself. He leads the kids in everything they do, whether climbing ladders or working with hoses. No youngster’s behavior escapes the radar of his sharp, but fair eyes. There’s plenty of praise for good work and instructive criticism for violations. He makes training sessions into exciting challenges, filled with responsibilities such as learning how to use the Jaws of Life to extract victims of car crashes, SCBA breathing devices, or CPR.
When Keaton started his senior year with college applications, his schedule was so cramped that sometimes he had to run from one thing to another. At one point I wondered if something had to go. “How about dropping going to the firehouse?” I tried to be helpful. “Of course not!” Keaton replied resolutely. “I like my firehouse. George is taking us to an abandoned house for rescue simulations next week.”
I realized that George and the firehouse had become an important part of his life. And I was very proud of him. Our kids’ lives shouldn’t just run on a linear track between school and home. There is much to be learned outside. As they grow, don’t forget to encourage them to get involved with community service, where many wonderful men and women volunteer and are willing to serve as mentors.
This New Year, resolve to spare yourself some unnecessary torment and find a mentor for your children right in your neighborhood.
You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org .