A child might love his parents, but the world of grownups still seems far and away to him. On the other hand, he might like a slightly older child or mentor for he represents the “cool” factor (which his parents do not) and look up to him.
I will tell you my story. I am a the eldest of the three children and have even as a small child, preferred the company of people elder to me. Being the eldest, I missed having an older sibling. So, when a new neighbour moved in the opposite building complex with a girl four year my senior, I was dazzled. I was nine, and the girl in question 13 years old. We liked each other’s company and played together in our free time. From her I learnt quite a few things. She taught me new games, sometimes helped me with my school work.
However, I also learnt many things which I shouldn’t have had – at least not at that age. Keep in mind, she was already a teenager and behaving like one. She had a few male friends whom she met outside school hours. Now, because her parents wouldn’t have permitted her to meet them, she started using me as her partner in crime. She would take me along saying that we were going for a walk to the nearby park. I was very proud to be useful to her and was happy to be a part of her life. And, so I stayed mum. It was our very own secret. Kids are that innocent!
Meanwhile, new people started moving in in the building complex. My friend cum mentor had friends of her own age now. Gradually, I wasn’t that important. She started avoiding and ignoring me. Initially, I didn’t realize. My mother who never liked me mingling much with the older girl and insisted on playing with other kids my own age, pointed out to me on several occasions that one day I would be dropped like a bag of hot coals. But, rebellious, I wouldn’t pay much attention.
And, then it happened. One day after school, I went to meet my friend taking two candies, one for her and the other one for me. I thought we would enjoy it together. When I entered her house, I saw that she already had her new neighbour friend over. I offered the candy to my friend. When she saw that I was carrying another candy, she insisted that I gave it to her new friend. I refused. And then both the girls ignored me, as if I was not standing there at all. I kept on standing for quite a long time before I couldn’t take this treatment. I ran away from her house. On coming home, I cried and sobbed to my heart’s content. And my mother comforted me. After that fateful day, I never visited my friend’s house. After a few weeks, our paths crossed and she asked me why I didn’t come to play with her anymore. I simply lied saying that I had lots of homework, and so was actually very busy.
Technically speaking, that was my first heart break. I really thought the sun rose and set with her. She was my mentor, my guru, my friend and the older sibling that I never had. Looking back, it seems funny. I know now what she did was nothing monumentally wrong. She was a 15-year-old girl, of course she wouldn’t have the maturity to handle the situation. But, as a 11-year old, I was hurt and wary. I could never accept any other mentor for the fear of being rejected again.
It is a good thing for kids to have slightly older mentors. In fact, they can be a friend and a sibling rolled into one.
- They can prove to be older siblings to kids who are elder in their family or don’t have siblings of their own. Believe me, it’s quite a big deal.
- They can learn many valuable life skills from them. Your timid child might be challenged to be more adventurous under the tutelage of a mentor. For example, I learnt to ride a bicycle with the help of my mentor who was patient enough to drive away my fears and instil confidence in me. In the same way, my daughter has learnt to ride bicycle with the help of a patient 9-year old neighbour.
- Older kids can sometimes bring insight into a child’s school or project work like his parents might not.
However, there are some red flags too which parents should look out for:
- Older kids might tend to bully younger kids. They know that young kids adore them, practically follow them like a little puppy, and they might take advantage of it.
- They might use young kids to their advantage or involve them in not so healthy schemes.
- Young kids might learn certain things which may do more harm than good. Every child should learn about how their body works, menstruation, growth of breasts and pubic hair, sex, etc., however the kind of information as per age and the source of information are equally important.
There is nothing wrong in a child having a mentor, in fact, many kids look up to their elder siblings as their gurus, but it is important that the parents know the type of things their child is learning from his or her mentor. Also, most young kids develop a sort of crush on their mentors, parents should handle their kids’ feelings delicately, or they can be badly hurt.