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.

Mentors & Role Models: The Positive Influences of Adults

According to research, for parents trying to raise a young man in our current culture, there are numerous obstacles: changes in the educational system, video games, ADHD medication, endocrine disrupters, and a lack of positive, masculine role models. 

boys_mentors

Years ago, upon recommendation by our pediatrician, I read the book Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. The ideas presented in the book still resonate with me today.

Experiential Learning

In his book, Sax claims that boys need to have more experiential or hands on learning experiences, they need more contact with nature, they need to read a variety of books for fun, boys excel with competition, they need to interact with good male role models, and they need hands-on training in working and serving. Lastly, Sax explains in depth why video games are especially addicting to boys and the reasons why they are so harmful to their motivation and progress.

In our home, we try to balance video games with time outdoors and thrilling, real-life experiences. Though we certainly can improve, I feel we do a good job being consistent in this regard. The area I want to discuss today, however, is the importance of role models. Most of us would agree that children learn from role models and imitate behaviors of those they admire.

Mentors

It is thereby important to provide children with positive role models and mentors, men who exhibit the qualities you want your son to emulate. 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.

When we are growing up, we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. A good role model should be someone hard working, creative, free thinking and moral.

We had a chance to catch up with one such mentor a few months ago, a friend who works for the city’s public works department. We stopped by one afternoon as he was putting away the equipment. My son was delighted to get to climb on board.

What are the qualities of an effective mentor? In this followup post I explore the key characteristics in a mentor who is ultimately able to make a difference in the lives of youth.

I was impressed that during our visit, my son even asked numerous questions about his work. “How did you get started working here?” “What kind of training or studies are needed to do this type of work?” “What do you like best about working here?”

A few weeks later, my son was sharing an anecdote about this visit with his Mandarin teacher and referred to him as a friend. I love that as homeschoolers, he doesn’t feel constrained by age and is comfortable carrying on discussions about topics of interest to him.

Because of the influence of this mentor, my son has also had a life-long interest in model trains. On Saturday, I will share with you The Science & Math of Model Railroads.