By Lauren Bressett
One of the most important factors in the life of successful young adults is the fact that they had a strong positive relationship with a caring adult. Whether this was a parent or relative, a teacher, coach, or community member, having this adult in their life allowed them to feel secure, validated, and helped provide perspective on their world at that moment in time. A mentor serves as a motivator, a self-reflector, and a point of strength and support during times of doubt or discouragement.
Research has shown that youth who have a mentor in their lives are less likely to be involved in risky teen behavior, more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities and enroll in post-secondary education, and more likely to volunteer and hold leadership positions. They show strengthened intellect and personal skills, are more self-aware and self-confident, and are better at planning, organizing, and solving problems.
A mentor relationship can be informal, where your teen finds someone on their own whom they feel they can talk to, look up to, and get counsel from. In order for your teen to find a positive mentor, you need to make sure your teen is exposed to positive adults in a number of settings that relate to existing or potential interests your teen has. Local possibilities can be school extracurricular activities or sports, places of worship, or any of the youth activities or organizations locally such as 4-H, Scouts, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, etc. A mentoring relationship can also be part of a formal program such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or a school mentoring program.
Characteristics of a good mentor include being supportive, an active listener, a motivator, with an authentic interest in the teen as an individual, providing perspective, and fostering self-decision-making.
No matter where the mentor comes from, having your teen connected to the right mentor is important. A relationship where there is a disconnect between the personalities, interests, and expectations of the mentor and mentee or where there is no positive bond or a which is a negative influence on your teen, where there is irregular and inconsistent contact, or the mentor is unprepared and lacks skills to relate to youth; or something that lasts less than three months have been found to be harmful to youth.
As Denzel Washington noted, “Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living — if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”
So help your teen discover heroes and mentors and welcome them into his/her world. And if your teen starts talking a lot about what a new person in their life said, seems to be excited and engaged in positive things because of this relationship, and is showing positive growth and maturity as a result, be happy that your child is experiencing the blessings and benefits of having more than one caring adult in their life.