By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
Research shows that in order for young people to succeed, all young people need caring adults and mentors around them.
So, how do you find mentors for your child? There are formal ways: through programs, such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or through a mentoring program in your school or community. There are informal ways as well, such as noticing which adults connect with your kids and building relationships with them.
Informal adult mentors could be teachers, coaches, private music teachers, neighbors, club leaders, extended family members, colleagues at work, or parents of your kids’ friends.
A seventh-grade math teacher and an eighth-grade language arts teacher became mentors to my child. Even now that he is a sophomore in college—and living out of state during the school year—these two adults still connect with him. Sometimes it’s through Facebook. Sometimes it’s through e-mail. When my son is home, the eighth-grade language arts teacher invites him over for ice cream, and they visit with each other.
My other child is still in high school, and I’ve noticed a couple of adults who have stepped in— an aunt, an uncle, a private music teacher, and a neighbor—and taken a mentoring role in his life, even though nobody calls it “mentoring".
But what if no one steps up?
There have been periods in my kids’ lives when no one did. So, I began finding activities that my kids enjoyed, and paid attention to the coaches and club leaders who connected well with them. I discovered that if I want other adults to be a mentor to my kids, I need to be a mentor as well. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is through activities that I love. I really enjoy playing flute, and I’ve mentored a number of young flute players. I also keep our house open and welcoming to my kids and their friends. My oldest son loves jamming with his friends, and so they jam at our house (even though the music can get a bit loud). I make sure they have snacks they like, and I always try to connect with one person whenever they arrive at our house. I ask them about their lives: what they’re excited about, what they dream about, what’s happening lately at school. Then I tell them how proud I am of them, and whenever I do that, I marvel at how they stand straighter and taller. They even go out of their way to greet me when I’m at the store or somewhere in the community.
Being a mentor isn’t just about giving. It’s about building a relationship that matters, and that relationship works both ways: between you and the child.
So keep on the lookout for mentors. They’re everywhere. They’re in our neighborhoods. They’re in our schools. They’re in our kids’ activities. They’re easy to spot. They’re compassionate, trustworthy adults who truly care about kids. And when our kids get to know some mentors, everyone wins. The mentor. The mentee. The parent. Everyone.
A good mentor-mentee relationship takes time to develop, but as the parent or caregiver, you play an important role in helping this special friendship grow, whether or not you have much direct contact with your child’s mentor. Check out the strength- and evidence-based mentoring resources available through Search Institute to help enhance your child's relationship with his or her mentor, and increase the likelihood that he or she receives the strengths and supports needed to succeed.