Youth mentoring is a unique way to deliver personalized, individual, learning to young people as they transition into adulthood, grapple with some issue, or simply develop their own personal identity. It involves pairing a young person with a suitably qualified (and vetted) mature adult (usually not a family membeqr) for the purposes of helping the young person develop via personal relationship with the mentor.
Contemporary youth mentoring programs are often focused upon youth with particular issues – from drug abuse, to family difficulties – although more general programs are emerging for the purposes of education, career path choices and simple personal development as the young person is given opportunity for a personal mentor through church and school programs.
Mentoring is all about relationship and mentors can play an important role for young people outside their family. Through mentoring young people have a chance to related to a mature trusted other. They can explore ideas and discuss opinions and issues that might not be possible with their parents – and with the mentor’s help – they may move towards being able to have a better relationship with their parents and discuss issues that are currently taboo.
Mentors outside the family are also important to help the young person gain a sense of connection with wider society. It is part of finding their own identity and taking independence in society. Having an adult who is there to listen to them, provide advice, offer guidance, point to wider community resources and provide support and challenge is a great asset for any young person.
Sometimes this void for relationship and connection is filled by very negative informal “peer-mentors” who simply lead a young person astray into criminal activity; drug abuse; violence; theft etc. The need for relationship combined with discovering identity and being easily influenced means young people are very vulnerable to such bad influences. Formal peer mentoring with suitable adults can help break the informal “peer-mentoring” influences that emerge.
There are some big hurdles to the adoption of youth mentoring:
(i) Funding – Often mentoring programs only exist for youth with some very specific issues, or who’ve been in criminal trouble. Ah hoc programs by churches and schools do exist but are often operated on a volunteer basis;
(ii) Staff – Finding suitable mature, qualified, adults who are prepared to act as mentors and role models is often a problem – especially when the staff are volunteers;
(iii) Security – a program where vulnerable young people are placed in relationship with other adults is always open to abuse by adults seeking to exploit the influence that they are given. mentoring is especially open to abuse because the relationship is often “private”;
(iv) Cultural acceptance – while mentoring is very common in workplaces there are some barriers to its acceptance as a more “general” development program. Culturally we are just not used to providing “guidance” for personal development in this way; we often prefer to let a random assortment of elements from popular culture to impact a young person’s ideas and values, and believe they are “finding themselves” in that vacuum; and finally,
(v) Time – unless mentoring is built into the education system, we are unlikely to find opportunity for it. Parents are already booking children and young people into care,before and after school, and will have little time to drop them off at a personal mentor for a chat whenever the child requests it!
While there are barriers to the uptake of youth mentoring, it is a promising contemporary way forward for solving some of the complicated community and relationship issues that young people face today.