Why Youth Need Mentors
The young people of today must cope with far more personal and social pressures than any other previous generation of youth. Early intervention through a structured mentor relationship may be able to give young people the tools and support they need to deal effectively with these pressures. Understanding the many social, psychological, and physical demands that the youth face is extremely important for any individual about to undertake the task of being a mentor.
Following is a list of these issues.
Peer Pressure · One of the greatest forces on adolescents is the power and influence of their peers.
Substance Abuse · The curiosity to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs is a constant threat to each adolescent in today’s world.
Sexuality · Many young people turn to sexual relationships for a variety of reasons.
Gender Identity · More and more young people are exploring their identity and how they express their gender.
Child Abuse and Family Violence · Physical and psychological abuse, within the family or in any environment, will have both an immediate effect on the youth and create long-lasting, negative attitudes and behaviors.
School Safety and Violence · Many young people are exposed to bullies or other violent behaviors in the school setting which may result in attendance problems or lower academic achievement levels.
Depression and Suicide · Serious depression is common when young people are overwhelmed with issues and situations they cannot resolve.
Nutrition and Health Care · Many young people feel they are immortal and are either ignorant of or tend to ignore good health practices.
Faith and Religion · This issue is usually within the domain of the family. However, this may be an area of great concern for some young people.
Social and Time Management · How to manage leisure time, schoolwork, extracurricular activities, family chores, and other social demands is often very difficult for young people.
Career Exploration and Part-Time Work · Many young people struggle with the subjects of work and career. They often don’t know what they want to do or be, how they can contribute to society, what their strengths are, or what steps to take in exploring workplace opportunities. Making money is important to most kids, but knowing how to go about securing satisfying employment is something they usually learn through trial and error.
THE ROLE OF A MENTOR – Mentors’ roles fall into four categories: Providing academic help and tutoring, providing career exploration assistance,providing emotional support, and providing social experiences. Any and all of the following are important activities that mentors provide in the lives of their youth:
- Keeping youth in school; helping them graduate from school; evaluating educational choices; directing them to educational resources.
- Role Modeling – Pointing out, bringing to attention, demonstrating, and explaining your own actions and values that offer the youth the best chances for success and happiness; helping youth see and strive for broader horizons and possibilities than they may see in their present environment.
- Attention and Concern · Many youth do not receive enough from the adults in their lives; mentors can fill in these empty spaces with dependable, sincere, and consistent attention and concern.
- Accountability · A commitment made to a youth for a meeting together, an activity, or an appointment should be a mentor’s first priority, barring emergencies. This consistent accountability has several benefits:
- Sets a good example for youth to see and emulate
- Cements trust between mentor and youth
- Creates mutual expectations that can be met
Listening -The other adults in the young person’s life may not have the time, interest, or ability to listen, or they may be judgmental. Mentors can encourage young people to talk about their fears, dreams, and concerns. Staying neutral and not judging, but rather, sharing your own values, is important in listening. Remember, a mentor may be the ONLY adult in a youth’s life who listens. Through the mentors’ sustained caring, interest, and acceptance, youth may begin to think of themselves as worthy of this attention. They may apply this new, stronger sense of self-confidence to other relationships and experiences. Mentoring is not a PANACEA for all the problems and deficiencies facing youth and their families.
THE ESSENCE OF MENTORING IS THE SUSTAINED HUMAN RELATIONSHIP. Mentor programs can enhance the efficacy of this relationship by providing support activities and opportunities for development of social skills of the youth through group activities.
Benefits to the Mentors
- Mentors gain personal and professional satisfaction in helping a youth.
- Mentors gain recognition from their peers.
- Mentors gain improved interpersonal skills.
- Mentoring focuses the mentor outside of him/herself.
- Mentoring promotes deeper understanding of teen and societal problems.
Benefits to the Youth
- Exposes youth to a positive role model
- Helps to focus youth on their future and on setting academic and career goals
- Exposes youth to new experiences and people from diverse cultural, socio-economic, and professional backgrounds
- Provides youth with attention and a concerned friend
- Encourages emotional and social growth
- Fosters increased confidence and self-esteem
PRACTICES OF EFFECTIVE MENTORS
- Involve youth in deciding how the pair will spend their time together.
- Make a commitment to be consistent and dependable – to maintain a steady presence in the youth’s life.
- Recognize that the relationship may be fairly one-sided for some time – mentors, not youth, are responsible for keeping the relationship alive.
- Call youth before each support meeting or appointment to confirm their attendance and/or their transportation needs.
- Pay attention to the youth’s need for fun.
- Respect the youth’s viewpoint.
- Allow the youth to make mistakes.
- Separate their own goals from those of the youth – leave their personal agenda behind.
- Do not focus on the negative aspects of the youth, neighborhood, or parents – leave it alone.
Developing Rapport and Building Trust – One of the best ways to build trust is to help youth accomplish something that is important to them. Mentors must take the time to help youth identify the goal(s) they want to accomplish, view it realistically, break it down into small steps, and explore ways of reaching the goal. Building trust takes weeks, sometimes months. Testing will occur. Youth may be slow to give their trust, expecting inconsistency and lack of commitment, due to past experiences with adults. The mentor’s trustworthiness and commitment may be tested, particularly when youth are from unstable backgrounds where adults have repeatedly disappointed them. During the testing period, mentors can expect: Missed appointments, phone calls not returned, unreasonable requests, angry or sullen behavior.
Confidentiality The youth may be unsure whether the feelings and information they disclose to their mentors will be passed on to teachers, parents, etc. Early in the relationship, mentors must provide reassurance: Nothing that the youth tells the mentor will be discussed with anyone else, if the mentor feels it is important to involve another adult, it will be discussed first with the youth. If there is threat of physical harm to the youth or to others, the mentor must break confidentiality to seek protection for the endangered person (including the threat of suicide).