Teens are starving for attention from an adult who believes in them.
A teen who doesn’t have a healthy relationship with an adult often lacks confidence. They are less likely to develop communication and social skills needed to establish strong personal boundaries because no one is available to be a role model. They have no one to turn to for guidance when they’re suffering and need to talk.
Teens who lack the presence of a significant adult in their lives are targeted for bullying more often than peers who have strong adult support. Many teens find support they crave through participation in gangs. They are 80 percent more likely to struggle with depression and six times more likely to attempt suicide (NCBI, 2013).
The good news is this: Our kids don’t have to drown in silent desperation. Youth motivational speaker, Josh Shipp, believes, “Every kid is ONE caring adult away from being a success story.”
A mentor is a torch who helps kids see into their futures. Mentoring offers emotional support, guidance, and encouragement for lonely youth.
Youth mentoring is a process of matching young people with a caring adult. Adult mentors are usually unrelated to the child or teen and work as volunteers through community-, school-, or church-based programs.
Training is essential to the mentor preparation process. Not every volunteer possesses the qualities, emotional stability, or skills to be a mentor. The most successful mentoring programs interview potential mentors and offer mentor training. They consistently check in with mentors and mentees to monitor progress and track feedback.
The Effective Strategies for Providing Quality Youth Mentoring in Schools and Communities series provide mentoring program coordinators and mentors with tools to build quality mentoring programs. They outlined 10 tips for adults who want to be successful youth mentors:
- Build relationships grounded in trust. Many teens without mature role models are suspicious of adults. Do not try to become your mentee’s best friend or substitute parent. Mentors are positive role models who invite open communication and mutual respect.
- Create realistic goals and expectations. Do not expect your mentee to confide in you right away. Ask questions; get to know your mentee. As your relationship grows, your mentee will feel more comfortable sharing his or her life with you.
- Have fun together. Find out what kind of activities your mentee enjoys. Go bowling or watch a good movie. Shoot some hoops. Play miniature golf. Walk through a mall or grab a snack at a food bar. You need not spend a lot of money to build a strong mentor/mentee relationship; what’s most valuable is your investment of time. Need more ideas? Try one of these suggestions from 100 Ideas to Use When Mentoring Youth.
- Discuss decisions about activities with your mentee. Some teens may be shy to suggest ideas because they don’t want to appear rude or needy. Others are content to let you make the decisions, especially in the beginning stages of your relationship. When you ask your mentee for input, this shows you value his or her ideas.
- Allow your mentee to reveal personal information when they are ready. Give your mentee permission to reveal how much (or how little) information they wish to share with you. Remind them that they can share with you without fear of judgement.
- Listen. When you ask questions and listen, you give mentees permission to share their stories and personal experiences without criticism. Ask one of these questions if you are not sure how to launch a conversation with your mentee.
- If a mentee asks for advice, focus on solutions. Allow your mentee time to release uncomfortable emotions if they need to vent, but encourage him or her to consider their options. When they focus less on what they can’t control and shift their attention to those areas within their control: including their own thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions, they reclaim their personal power. Don’t get stuck in the problem; consider solutions.
- Be positive. Briefly share your own experiences to demonstrate empathy, but your time together is not about you – it’s about your mentee. Do not bog down your time or monopolize conversations with stories about your struggles when you were growing up. If your mentee feels “stuck,” remind him or her they can change their perspective by changing their thoughts.
- Your primary relationship is with your mentee, not their parents or family members. Do not try to act as an intermediary between your mentee and family. Resist efforts as a mentor to be drawn into parental or familial issues. Discuss matters of concern with your program director.
- It is your responsibility to set a good example as a mentor. Your mentee will lose trust in you if you can’t be depended upon to honor your commitments. Decide upon consistent times to talk or meet with your mentee. Show up on time. Your lack of commitment can be devastating for the young person you offered to support. If you are unsure about the time or emotional commitment you have to share with a child or teen, do not volunteer to be a mentor until you are confident you can fulfill the responsibilities.
“Whoever it may be, you have the power to make a positive and significant difference in their lives,” insists Josh Shipp. “Do for ONE kid what you wish you could do for ALL kids.”
These are Josh’s suggestions for effective mentoring.
Step 1: Find out what they’re into.
Step 2: Spend time doing what matters to them because they matter to you.
Step 3: Your investment of time will lead to influential conversations
The following organizations offer outstanding mentoring resources:
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
- Boys & Girls Clubs of America
- MENTOR: National Mentoring Resource Center
- Mentor/Mentee Training & Relationship Support Resources
- The Mentoring Project
The presence or absence of a consistent, caring adult in a young person’s life often determines whether they thrive or drop out of school; whether they dream and believe in their unlimited potential or feel hopeless without a future. As a mentor, you will have many opportunities to close this gap and ensure someone has the support needed to be optimistic and excited about his or her own life. One young person at a time.
How has an adult positively impacted your life? In what ways can you pay it forward?
Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to consider ways you can inspire teens.
If you’re wondering how to start a conversation with a teen, consider these tips from Why We Must Talk to Young People About Their Dreams.
Children and teens are talking. Using these tips to encourage dialogue and Hear the Voice of Our Youth.
Teens are talking about all kinds of issues (with or without adult permission). Join the discussion with suggestions from Politics, God, Race, Sex, & Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.
If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).