How Youth Mentoring Helps Children at Risk

Youth mentors soon learn there are many angry, disillusioned and confused children, who need help. These children can be of any age, race, creed or color. Many of them have gone through personal experiences including poverty, tragedy or natural disaster. They wind up in difficult relationships, serious family problems and broken homes; some of them are orphaned, homeless and wandering the streets. Disillusioned with respect to others and life, they simply ‘exist’, meanwhile putting themselves and others at risk.  

Children, too young to survive on their own, are always at high risk when they have to struggle to survive. They do not necessarily have other options they are aware of, but some of them are fortunate enough to ‘find’ youth mentors who they can relate to in a positive and constructive way. At times, youth mentors ‘find’ them.

Appropriate youth mentoring can make a huge difference in the lives of children and help those who are at risk to regain and retain some degree of normalcy in their lives.

The expression, ‘one significant other’ is important in youth mentoring for children of all ages.

What does ’one significant other’ imply? suggests that this means ‘significant other’ is “a person, such as a family member or close friend, who is important or influential in one’s life.”  

‘One significant other’ as a youth mentor, can be a neighbor, teacher or even a total stranger who befriends children and brings about changes in their lives. At times, it can be a professional caregiver like a police man, nurse or counselor. It can also be a community leader or simply another, older teenager.

The article, “Mentoring Disadvantaged Youth – The Smith Family” employs the word ‘disadvantaged’ for children in need of mentoring.

“Research shows that mentoring is one of the most effective ways of sharing knowledge within communities and providing a ‘significant other’ for those who are lacking positive role models.”

Children who are homeless, hungry and desperate often find themselves at risk in different ways, like involvement with alcohol, different kinds of drug abuse or drug trafficking. They may be in trouble with the law for break and entry, destructive patterns of behavior, stealing, etc.

In a state of panic, not knowing what to do, children instinctively turn to those they think will help them. Sometimes, the help they receive is appropriate, but not always. They may also wind up used and abused by others who they have turned to for help.

When a successful youth mentor-youth mentee relationship has been established between an older person and a child, one that based upon a loving, caring and compassionate concern for children, it has the potential to become a ‘one significant other’ relationship between the mentor and mentee. With mutual trust, honesty and respect, in conjunction with the knowledge that the youth mentor has to offer to the youth mentee, this relationship soon shows signs of appropriate, positive and proactive nurturing.             

Youth mentor-youth mentee relationships are not always easy to establish. There can be innate paranoia, fear, anxiety and mistrust in any child. This has to be resolved and that often takes patience, time and effort on the part of the mentor. Spending time together and doing things with one another can help resolve negative, self-destructive feelings.

By nurturing a ‘one significant other’ relationship, the youth mentor can help to resolve risk problems of children. Those at risk may need professional counseling, intervention or medical treatment.

At times, there may seem to be many steps backwards, even while there is a small step forward in the right direction. As the level of trust increases in children, they will gradually begin to return to different kinds of social settings that involve others. Group mentoring then becomes a possibility.

There is a multiplicity of serious risks in the lives of children, even when they come from good homes and communities. This is true, regardless of how old they are and the different circumstances or situations with which they are faced. Life is not easy for many children and mentors who are willing to work with them on a ‘one significant other’ basis can help them to improve their lives significantly.

Youth mentoring with children of all ages can appear to be a thankless task, but many years later youth mentors may find that they have been instrumental in bringing about changes in the lives of those children who they have mentored as children. Many of their mentees grow up and become youth mentors themselves, teaching what they have learned from their youth mentors to others.

In other words, the youth mentees of today are destined to become the youth mentors of tomorrow, helping other children at risk.