By Azugbene Solomon
We understand the benefits of mentoring young people when we hear the powerful stories of teens whose lives have been changed by a single, caring adult. If you listen, those stories are everywhere. Like me, you likely have a story of a mentor from your own youth.
What we know about mentoring is that it matters to positive youth development. Now, one of the largest mentoring studies ever conducted continues to support this thinking and links mentoring to a reduction in bullying.Mentoring creates positive impact in youth’s lives. Youth with mentors have higher rates of high school graduation and are less likely to drop out of school. They find more self-confidence, self esteem, and are able to create big goals for themselves. Additionally, studies show that behavior, attitudes, and relationships improve when a youth has a mentor. Mentors help children grow and close the social and/or economic opportunity gap.
According to MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, children at risk who had a mentor were:
55% more likely to enroll in college
52% less likely to skip school
37% less likely to skip class
78% more likely to volunteer regularly
90% interested in become a mentor themselves
130% more likely to hold leadership positions
Youth who had a mentor also showed a better attitude towards school.
Regular meetings between mentor and student saw that youth were:
46% less likely to use drugs
27% less likely to drink
81% more likely to participate in extracurricular activities
Youth also showed less depressive symptoms when they met regularly with their mentor.
While meeting a student or child once or twice a month may not seem like a huge impact, mentors are creating positive change in the lives of their students. Mentors become someone that youth look up to and trust; and youth may see their own dreams in their mentor. Being a mentor is a rewarding experience that allows us to be the person our younger selves needed.
A five year study sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada found that children with mentors were more confident and had fewer behavioral problems. Girls in the study were four times less likely to become bullies than those without a mentor and boys were two times less likely. In general, young people showed increased belief in their abilities to succeed in school and felt less anxiety related to peer pressure.
Mentoring relationships with youth are complex and there is more to be learned about what makes them succeed, particularly when mentors are matched through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and other kinds of nonprofits. In my own research with teens who became engaged citizens, all of the young people in the study had naturally developed mentee-mentor relationships with adults sometime during their middle and high school years. None were matched by organizations. Nonparent mentors – teachers, clergy, and civic leaders – were highly instrumental in how these teens learned to believe in themselves and tackle challenging goals – much like those in the Big Brothers Big Sisters study.
Six Qualities that Make You a Good Mentor for Youth
Most studies have focused more on the effects of mentorship on youth and less on what adults actually do in their role as mentors. But in my interviews with more than 40 young people who were mentored by adults, some common and important themes emerged.
Young people agreed that you are more likely to influence their life path if you possess the following six qualities:
1. You are Supportive
By far, the most important role of a mentor is to support and encourage young people, particularly as they struggle to overcome obstacles and solve problems. When young people feel down, upset with their families, or unhappy in their life situations, mentors are beside them, letting them talk about anything and reminding them of their innate value.
2. You are an Active Listener
Mentors listen first and speak last. Many teens mentioned how little they feel listened to by most adults. Often, they feel inferior even when they have good ideas. But mentors are different. They always listen, even when they are not obligated to do so.
3. You Push — Just Enough
As parents can attest, most teens don’t respond well to being pushed out of their comfort zones, particularly within families. But teens really like to have high expectations set for them – both academically and personally. They appreciate when mentors push them beyond what they may have imagined they could accomplish. In fact, this is likely the reason why mentored youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to attend college.
4. You Have Authentic Interest in Youth as Individual
Teens can tell the difference between adults who are authentically interested in them as individuals and those who are just playing a role. Mentors engage youth to understand all aspects of their lives and interests. They value young people’s ideas and honor their changing feelings and moods.
5. You Foster Self Decision-Making
Good mentors don’t judge young people or impose their own beliefs on them. Instead they remind teens who they are and help them believe they have the insights to make good choices. Knowing they are not being judged helps young people think through decisions critically, sifting through the deeper values that will inform the adults they become.
6. You Lend Perspective
Adult mentors provide perspective to young people from their additional years of life experience. When obstacles seem overwhelming, mentors help put those challenges in perspective. They also help young people see both sides of a situation, helping model the skills of positive skepticism.
What other qualities make good mentors for young people? How can we provide mentoring relationships to all teens? Please share your insights and experiences.
1. Bu Community Service Center: The Importance of Youth Mentorship
2. Psychology Today: Mentoring Youth Matters by Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D