One definition of youth mentoring is that “Youth mentoring is the process of matching mentors with young people who need or want a caring, responsible adult in their lives. Adult mentors are usually unrelated to the child or teen and work as volunteers through a community, school, or church-based social service program” (Wikipedia).
Youth mentoring is about mentoring relationships specifically for young people and the issues and stage of life that they are passing through. It is not quite the same as the mentoring that you may find in a corporation or professional society – or even on Helium! Although the effective youth mentor will have many of these “general” skills.
Having general mentoring skills means the youth mentor will (a) have progressed through the given stage being mentored – they are NOT a peer; (b) have maturity of perspective and be tolerant and nurturing towards the youth; (c) know how to handle conflict effectively; (d) be professional and respect the boundaries of mentoring relationships; and (e) will be trustworthy and effective communicators – especially in their listening skills.
The youth mentor will also need skills beyond these. Firstly, youth have not yet fully developed psychologically, emotionally etc. They are still learning to accept responsiblity and think of consequences; to formulate goals and plan, etc..They are quite simply immature, Secondly, much youth mentoring deal with youth who have some specific issue – from involvement in crime and drug abuse, to family and relationship issues. The combination of immaturity and pressing problems is a deadly mixture. The youth mentor needs some specific skills!
1. SPECIFIC DEVELOPMENTAL KNOWLEDGE. The youth mentor needs specific knowledge of young people’s psychological processes; they need to understand the developmental limitations of the mentee and the limitations that the young person will experience in entering into a “normal” adult mentoring relationship. The young person will often need more help in setting direction; formulating goals and taking responsibility for being mentored. Many youth are transitioning into independence and the mentor needs a good working knowledge of their developmental issues.
2. ABILITY TO ESTABLISH TRUST VIA IDENTIFICATION. The mentor will often be dealing with a young person who is distrustful of adults and who knows only acceptance from peers. The youth mentor will have to have the ability to establish trust. There are many ways that they will fo this – from normal reliablity, fairness etc. to actually moving onto the young person’s ground and entering into the young person’s world so that they identify with them and understand them. Occassionally they may need to have a mentoring relationship in the full scrutiny of the young person’s peers without (a) loosing the respect of the mentee or (b) sacrificing their own personal identity to the youth sub-culture.
3. KNOWLEDGE OF SPECIFIC ISSUES. The majority of youth mentoring is still about specific issues – like drug abuse and teenage pregnancy – that affect young people. The mentor will often have to have specific knowledge about these particular issues so that they can be a sounding board; provide knowledge and explanations at the young person’s level.
4. RESOURCES FOR WIDER SUPPORT. The mentor will also need to be able to provide wider resources from the community to help the mente. Even if the mentor is simply helping in an educational or vocational way they will need to have connections and links that will help the youth make progress into full successful integration with adult community.
5. SENSITIVITY TO BALANCE CHALLENGE AND SUPPORT. Effective youth mentors need to strike a careful balance between offering “support” and “challenge”. They need to be able to get the young person through testing times with acceptance, support, etc. that they may find no where else; but do so without condoning a lifestyle that is less than it could be.
6. PARTNERSHIP. The youth mentor will more than ever work with the mentee to help them form goals and set realistic paths for progress. Adults are more able to take responsiblity and do this for themselves – and the mentor is more a sounding board – but young people are still learning. The mentor needs to know that young people are often more dependent upon mentors for “guidance” in managing their situations, thoughts and feelings etc. They have to partner with the mentee in a unique way to help the mente establish and set goals.
The effective youth mentor will possesses many qualities that are necessary for general mentoring and be equipped to deal with young people in their immaturity who are often grappling with a pressing adult problem.