Mentoring into the Future: A Call for Increased Youth Mentoring
Chris Slininger is an active-duty Army Officer focused on experiencing, extracting, and educating his lessons learned through life to improve future generations of leaders. He's an eMMissary who's also attended each of our MMoments. See his thoughts on mentorship in this latest article.
Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” When I think of mentoring youth, I think of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, whose mission is to “Create and Support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth” (About, n.d.). However, I also think of their limited resources and focus on at-risk youth. Nonetheless, more children deserve and need the resources of a trusted mentor to kindle the fire in their minds.
Parents, teachers, and coaches are the traditional mentors of youth, but there remains a mentoring gap of one in three children not having a mentor. This approximates 9 million at-risk and 7 million non-at-risk youths never having a structured or ‘naturally occurring’ mentor relationship (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014). Structured mentoring are programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters, while ‘naturally occurring’ are the parent, teacher, coach mentoring relationships many youths enjoy. Additional insights from the Bruce and Bridgeland report include that the more at-risk youth a kid is, the more likely they are to have a structured mentorship. Children who receive mentorship are more likely to be mentors to other youths. Those involved in mentoring relationships set higher aspirational goals and engage in productive and beneficial activities.
When I was a junior in high school, I volunteered to be a Big Brother, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. My Little Zach was an incredible kid, and I enjoyed spending time with him and hopefully being a positive role model. Unfortunately, after the year ended, that was it for my time with Zach, and the bond created was no longer accessible. At the time, Myspace was still the main social media platform and middle schoolers did not have cell phones or e-mails, so the only continuation was letters. Unfortunately, Zach was moving, and I was focusing on college and post-high school plans, so there were no easily accessible means to communicate and create a long-distance mentorship relationship, as communication was difficult to maintain. This is no longer the case today, as social media and technology provide an opportunity for long-term mentoring relationships to develop. This is especially helpful for service members as they PCS and leaves mentoring relationships.
There are two main venues to conduct mentoring: the traditional in-person method and virtual mentoring. Each has benefits, drawbacks, and appropriate times to use the method. Establishing a trusted relationship with a mentee is primarily, and best, done in person. This allows the relationship to be less constrained, facilitates ease of conversations, and provides opportunities for constructive activities. As the mentor and mentee progress in life, the relationship can be transferred to a digital connection. This continuation enables youth to have a stable, long-term relationship with their mentor.
Mentoring youth in general, but especially in a virtual setting, comes with potential issues concerning the child's safety. Most individuals mentoring youth are well-intentioned and passionate members of the community who are invested in the next generation's success.
However, precautions must be taken to ensure those who wish to harm are vetted out of the program. The youth, their family, and the mentor feel safe using virtual means to communicate while maintaining a trusted relationship. Mentor, a non-profit focused on closing the gap in youth mentorship, recently released a study on their findings of ‘E-Mentoring’ during the pandemic. Their study found that 63% of programs surveyed were less confident that families would be comfortable with E-Mentoring (2022). This study's key conclusion indicates that buy-in from both the families and the mentors must include in-depth background checks, vetting, and appropriate matching. The success of the E-Mentoring programs showed that improvement in the participating youths was still measurable, even in a virtual relationship.
Mentoring youth, both at-risk and non-at-risk, is critical to the success of our communities. As we mentor youth, we create more mentors, more leaders, and better communities. With 16% of children living in poverty and food insecurity (Federal, 2022), an increase in gun-related deaths now surpassing motor vehicle accidents, and more than 1.5 million children homeless (The State, 2021), we owe it to support the next generation and give them the best chance they have at succeeding. Mentoring youth in your local community allows them to grow and develop, ask questions, test their limits, explore their future, and create strong, healthy relationships.
The hardest part of mentoring youths is deciding whether you are ready. Once you decide that you are prepared to mentor, finding ways to mentor is easy.
Find an organization like Big Brothers, Big Sisters or visit mentors.org to find a local organization near you
Apply and go through the vetting process
Take all training seriously
Meet your mentee
Have your life changed forever
Are you ready?
About us. (n.d.). Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.bbbs.org/about-us/
Bruce, M., & Bridgeland, J. (2014, January). The mentoring effect: Young people's perspectives on the outcomes and availability of mentoring. Mentor.
Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2022). America’s children in brief: Key national indicators of well-being, 2022. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
From crisis into capacity: Final report on findings from recent research on E-Mentoring. (2022, June). MENTOR.
The state of America's children. (2021). Children's Defense Fund. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.childrensdefense.org/state-of-americas-children/soac-2021-overview/