We expect, as awkward freshmen, that we’ll eventually metamorphosize into Cool Upperclassmen, admired by our peers. But I don’t think this just happens naturally. Being a mentor is a skill like any other, one that we might lack but also one that we can work to develop.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to offer help to your peers!
Ask if they’d like help; don’t offer unsolicited advice
Unsolicited advice comes across as criticism; in offering it, the message implicitly sent is, “What you are doing is so Spectacularly Wrong that I must teach you how to do it correctly!”
Another online-essay-help net way to phrase this would be, “Don’t hover over people’s shoulders, looking for things they’re doing wrong.” Stand back and watch; if they look confused, ask if they need help. They might welcome it, or they might want to do it themselves; either way, you should respect their choice!
Gauge their past experience and present understanding of the material
Two mistakes that you might make when explaining something: you might Gloss Over details they don’t understand, thereby confusing them; or, you might Over-Explain things they do know, thereby annoying them.
Strike a balance by asking where they stand: “How much experience do you you have with [programming/calculus/essay-writing/etc.]?”, or “How have you approached this problem up until now?”
By asking, you show that you care about their learning, and you can better direct your efforts to where they’re needed.
Validate them in moments of weakness; don’t dunk on them
It’s in the company of friends that we feel comfortable being ourselves and showing vulnerability. By showing weakness to our friends, we hope that they might buoy our spirits with the Power of Friendship.
But freshmen may not have learned this power. Instead of Verbal Support, they utter: “Oh, that? That’s easy! How could you not get that?”
This kills the friendship, and does not make the friend feel better.
So, rather than dunking on them, validate them. You don’t need to pretend that the material vexing them gave you trouble if it didn’t; even a simple, “That sucks, I’m really sorry to hear that,” can invite them to open up further.
Be honest and be authentic; don’t “play a character”
The best way to be approachable, I’ve found, is to Act Human. Don’t “play a role”—by gesticulating wildly and making broad, decisive generalizations. Don’t say things with more confidence than you have; don’t hide your confusion when you don’t know something.
Knowing what you know and don’t know is a crucial skill, and learning to accept that there are many things that you do not know is vital to not being perpetually sad. Show your true self, with its triumphs and failings, confidently and maturely. Setting that example for your peers may be one of the kindest things you can do.
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