One of the realities of working with teenagers is that they possess a, “full-of-crapolla-radar” that reaches for miles. Once you start trying to be something you’re not with them, they will sense it, and then they will begin to distrust you. So I admit to my kids right up front that I’m a big, corny, spastic dork. I certainly find times to prove it as well. I can trip over lines in linoleum…. I’ll jump around, dance and sing to Schoolhouse Rock while wearing a t-shirt about interjections. I know ALL the words to, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, and I know the rest of the songs on the CD as well. But most of them think it is hilarious, and I am teaching them geography at the same time even though I’m an English teacher. Dork…
However, there are huge benefits for you being yourself and not trying to be “cool”. First, if you try the whole cool route, eventually you will do or say some non-cool thing and the kids will start to see through your façade. Second, when you admit to your kids right up front that you are “silly” or “spastic” or “joyous” or “hyper” or whatever language you choose to use, you automatically gain points with them because they know you are being truthful. Then, when you run into a closed door (happened to me…) you can laugh it off with all of your kids, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ve ruined your ‘reputation’ as a “cool” mentor.
Believe me, your kids will always consider you to be “cool” if you are honest with them from the very beginning of your relationship with them. Especially for kids labeled, “at risk”, admitting your ‘weaknesses’ or your ‘uncoolness’ (I just made up that word…. I’m an English teacher, so I’m claiming privilege…) is a refreshing difference from what they have experienced with other adults because you are actually being honest with them.
In reality, being “cool” takes too much effort and energy. It is so much easier to be yourself, and it makes the relationships you have with your kids so much more genuine and authentic. That’s more important than any advice you can give them. It is a huge chunk of the foundation you will build so that even when you are not “officially” that kiddo’s mentor anymore, that child will still come to visit you, email you, write to you and keep in touch with you long after your “responsibilities” have expired. For me, my responsibilities to my kids never expire; when they’re mine, they’re mine forever. That attitude and unfailing message to my kids has made an indescribable impact on those who really needed it.
So be who you are. Don’t go overboard trying to be, “Too Cool for School”.