Mentors Matter: How Guidance Helps Kids Succeed
January is National Mentoring Month, which makes it the perfect time to appreciate the individuals who have inspired you and to consider becoming a mentor yourself.
Why become a mentor?
Ulises was six-years-old when he met his mentor, Edgar. Over the course of their relationship, which has lasted longer than a decade, Ulises has transformed from a kid who was struggling to learn English to a young man with dreams of becoming an immigration lawyer. Edgar and Ulises’s mentoring success story is just one of the many shared by the nonprofit organization MENTOR that show the extraordinary and lasting positive impact mentorships can have on young people’s lives.
According to MENTOR’s January 2014 report “The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring,” “…youth with mentors are more likely to report engaging in positive behavior.” They’re also more likely to attend college, participate in productive activities (sports, extracurriculars, etc.), and volunteer in their communities.
Right now, there’s a gap between the number of mentors available and the number of mentors needed. In the same report, MENTOR found that across the United States, “…approximately 16 million youth, including nine million at-risk youth, will reach age 19 without ever having a mentor.”
There are many reasons to volunteer as a mentor (you enjoy helping others, you feel a sense of responsibility toward your community, etc.), but for parents there’s an additional reason: by mentoring you will show your child that volunteering, giving your energy to a good cause, following through on commitments, etc., are all important and valuable uses of your time.
What is a mentor?
Simply put, a mentor is an experienced (usually older) individual who guides, supports, and teaches a less experienced (usually younger) person in a nonprofessional capacity.
Mentorships can be structured or informal or both, depending on the program. Structured mentors provide formal guidance with academics, life decisions, and college/career choices through tutoring and organized activities. Informal mentors deliver personal development guidance and insight through regular conversations, advice sessions, and one-on-one hang-outs.
How to be a mentor
Once you’ve made the decision to become a mentor, it’s time to do some research.
First, determine what kind of program you can commit to in terms of time and energy. Can you meet with a mentee in person once a week? Is your schedule more conducive to participating in a team/group mentoring program? Or is virtual mentoring the best fit for your current workload and family obligations?
You can find mentorship programs through local institutions (libraries, community clubs, etc.) and online databases like MENTOR’s Mentor Connections database.
After you’ve selected a handful of programs that meet your criteria, try using the National Mentoring Resource Center’s Program Reviews to research which ones are the most effective at helping students succeed. Programs that have earned high marks include the Better Futures Program, which helps foster care youth with mental health issues; theEisenhower Foundation’s Quantum Opportunities Program, a comprehensive four-year program for disadvantaged high school students; and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a one-on-one community-based mentorship program.
Getting your child involved
Consider getting your child involved in volunteer activities or a cross-age peer mentorship program where he or she can work with younger kids. Homeschooled and online school students, due to their more flexible schedules, may even have opportunities to incorporate mentoring into the learning day.
Children in structured cross-age peer mentorship programs will need training and adult support, so look for programs that provide both. Formal mentorship opportunities could include volunteering to read to younger children at the local library, helping with community after school programs, and tutoring students in nearby schools.
Informal mentorship opportunities are plentiful and as simple as encouraging your child to show a new kid around the neighborhood, lead activities for younger children at a nearby homeless shelter, and act as a coach (or assistant) for an after school sports league.
Making mentoring and volunteering things that the whole family values will help your child recognize and appreciate the mentors in his or her life while also teaching invaluable lessons about kindness, empathy, and altruism.
For further information about how you can make kindness and other positive personality traits a part of your child’s education, visit the website for Connections Academy online public school. If you’d like to learn more about online private school, please visit International Connections Academy’s website.