The Importance of Mentors for Teens
Adult Mentors Matter
Mentoring means teaching, guiding, counseling, sponsoring, influencing and more. This could be in the workplace, in school, or in your community. As someone who has been fortunate to mentor youth, and has experienced good results first-hand, I have no doubt it can be an important part of building youth to become contributing and successful adults. But you don’t just have to take my word for it. Study after study shows positive changes seen in teens from having adult mentors including improved grades and academic performance, reduced absentee rates in school, and a reduction in the use and abuse of illegal drugs. And the benefits don’t end in the teen years. Young people who are mentored grow to make meaningful contributions as adults. An added bonus — other adults in young people’s lives can improve teens’ relationships with their own parents!
What Adult Mentors Provide
Mentors offer a range of critical help, guidance, and resources. From helping teens prepare for a job interview to reviewing school essays, to teaching them life skills, there’s much to be gained. Adult mentors help teens navigate through their community. They help connect teens with other adults who may further impact them in a positive way. The list of possibilities is endless. Having an adult mentor can make a real difference.
Kerri is a member of the Youth Advisory Board at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. She reflects on her own positive experience with a mentor. She explains, “I would actually rather call my mentor my sponsor because not only does she talk to me, she talks for me. I can count on her to be an advocate for me because she knows my full potential and interests!”
Mentors Make a Distinct Connection
Perhaps one of the reasons adult mentors are so key is they provide a source of support distinct from parents. It is normal for teens to struggle with gaining independence from their parents — at times even rejecting their advice. Mentors assure that teens still gain adult guidance, from people who may share similar values as their parents.
My daughter often discounts comments I make about her various successes. I’ve heard on more than one occasion, “You’re just saying that because you’re my mother.” Despite my reassurance that my feedback is without bias (like that is even possible!), she is more likely to believe another adult who has less of a connection. The same goes for most other tweens and teens!
Mentors act as positive role models. They provide important reinforcement that teens may not believe if it comes from their parents or teachers. At times, they may offer emotional support in areas teens may feel uncomfortable sharing with their parents. Mentors may also influence ideas teens have about their abilities and potential. Mentors start from a place that’s not biased but are also there to help. For all of these reasons, teens often feel less defensive with mentors and are more open to their advice.
All Types of Teens Benefit from Non-Parental Mentoring
Adult mentors are particularly beneficial to those young people who’ve experienced hardships or discrimination. At the same time, all teens stand to benefit from adult, non-parent mentors. All teens welcome adult perspective. What they get from a mentor is an added adult point of view beyond that of their parents.
Young people thrive when they connect with and are empowered by adults outside their families. These supportive relationships are complementary to the love and guidance they receive at home. These deeper connections lead to an increased satisfaction in life.
Mentors Don’t Replace Parents — They Support Effective Parenting
Parents are the most important adults in young people’s lives. But even in the best of circumstances, parents only have their own life experience to draw from. A mentor may expose teens to ideas and opportunities that parents may not be familiar with. Part of the normal developmental process of adolescence is for children to distinguish themselves from their parents. It is a step they must take to see how they can stand on their own. It allows them to clarify which values and interests they hold as individuals. This means they might temporarily question or even reject parental guidance. But make no mistake about it — parental guidance remains critical ALWAYS. In other words, keep giving it even if it seems they’re not listening. (Because they are!) Responsible guidance from a mentor assures a second source of adult wisdom and an extra pair of eyes. Think of encouraging an adult mentor in your teen’s life as an additional strategic act of effective parenting.
Find a Mentor for Your Teen
You probably don’t have to look far to find a good mentor. But you may have to be willing to ask someone for their help. Even better, encourage your child to reach out to the potential mentor directly.
If you are unsure where to start, try talking to your adolescent’s teacher or school counselor for suggestions. Check out organizations with formal mentoring groups like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or find a mentoring program near you through the National Mentoring Partnership.
Take stock of the caring adults already in your teen’s life. Extended family members or family friends, teachers, coaches, religious advisors, or neighbors can serve as “natural” mentors. Consider which adults your teen already feels connected to. They may be in the best position to continue providing support.
Why Adult Mentors are Important to Teens
Teens don’t just learn how to act in the world from parents and teachers. Coaches and employers are among many other positive role models.
Mentors Offer New Views
Mentors likely have different perspectives from parents and can broaden a teens point of view.
Mentors have an “In”
Mentors can offer advice at precisely the time when some young people are pushing parents away as they gain independence.
Mentors Encourage Good Habits
Children who have mentors get better grades and miss fewer days of school.
Mentors Benefit Everyone
Adolescents in mentor relationships also tend to have stronger bonds with their parents.
Be a Mentor to a Child
So why become a mentor? Because it helps young people…and the mentors! Mentoring provides a chance to learn more about someone else, your community, and about your ability to function within the community. It provides a natural opportunity to use and sharpen empathy and listening skills. You’ll keep up to date on problems and challenges youth may be experiencing. You’ll likely improve your communication skills. And it’s a guarantee you’ll feel some personal satisfaction by helping your mentee achieve more than they may have on their own.
Consider these benefits and imagine how being a mentor can support your ability to guide your own children.
Help the Greater Society by Mentoring
See mentoring as a way to help teens become stronger themselves and in turn, become greater assets to society. According to Mentoring.org, adolescents who had a mentor are 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions. All of these are signals that as teens and young adults, they will be more likely to want to protect and give back to their community. What’s good for them ends up being good for all of us as well!