The Importance of Quality Adult Mentors for Youth

Kids need adult mentors in their lives. Adults with whom they trust and share common interests. Sometimes mentors can be a family member – an older sibling or an uncle. A mentor can also be a family friend or teacher within the community.

When we lived in Redding, my daughter developed a strong relationship with an elderly woman, Karen Scheuerman, who volunteered her time to lead nature outings for the youth in the community. In the beginning, we looked forward to these weekly excursions – a component of our Roots & Shoots club – because it was a chance to get outside and discover a new part of the local ecosystem.

Enjoying a walk near the lake on one of our many weekly nature outings.

Adult Mentors

As time progressed and we got to know Karen more, a mentor relationship developed that helped to foster my daughter’s interest in the natural world. Though we have since moved away, the lessons she imparted have stayed with us. Their connection fostered a passion for service and protecting the environment for my daughter.

Take a peak at one of our most cherished memories with Karen, Ladybugs Ladybugs Ladybugs!

Sadly, we recently learned that Karen has passed away. As we reflected on all that she taught us about caring for animals and caring for the environment, I began to realize just how important mentors are in the life of a child.

I also realized that Karen had special qualities that epitomized a great mentor relationship. She was of course friendly and outgoing but she had something special.

What are the qualities of effective adult mentors?

What qualities stand out to you in a mentor who is ultimately able to make a difference in the lives of youth? Below, I have outlined six important features of successful mentor relationships:

Be a friend

The successful mentors are the ones who can be a positive adult role model while focusing on the bonding and fun of a traditional friendship. It can be difficult for youth to befriend an unknown adult.

As a mentor, your goal is to help the relationship evolve into one of closeness and trust—but if you sound like you think you know everything or act like a parent and tell him what to do and how to act, you are likely to jeopardize your ability to build that trust.

Karen Scheuerman, mentor and wildlife conservation advocate in Northern California

Have realistic goals and expectations

Strong mentoring relationships do lead to positive changes in youth. These changes tend to occur indirectly, as a result of the close and trusting relationship, and they often occur slowly over time.

Have fun together

Sharing your expertise on a subject is of course educational and rewarding in itself. Having fun together also shows that you are reliable and committed. It is always possible to weave educational moments or real-life learning into the most “fun” activities. This is the kind of learning that youth tend to enjoy. It is learning with an immediate purpose and an immediate payoff; often they don’t even realize that they are learning.

Role models are highly important, helping to guide us through life during our development, to make important decisions that affect the outcome of our lives, and to help us find happiness in later life.

From my earlier post, Mentors & Role Models: The Positive Influences of Adults.

Give youth a choice

Giving your mentee voice and choice about activities will help build your friendship. Allowing them the freedom to choose or suggest activities demonstrates that you value their ideas and that you care about and respect her or him. The process can also help the child develop decision-making and negotiation skills.

Be positive

One of the most important things a mentor can do is to help develop self-esteem and self-confidence. Be encouraging and supportive; not criticizing. Many youth appreciate being able to bring up issues and having an adult who responds primarily by listening.

Listen

Just listening gives kids a chance to vent and lets them know that they can disclose personal matters without worrying about being criticized.

Respect the trust placed in you

As your relationship develops into one of closeness and trust, there might be times when the youth discloses something that causes real concern. As a supportive adult friend, you may be able to express that concern, but deliver your message in a way that also shows understanding and an ability to see her perspective.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥