If you want to increase your teen's chance of succeeding in life, there's one critical ingredient... a mentor. According to a Research Brief published by Child Trends, A teen with a mentor doubles their chances of making wise choices, experiencing success, and reaching their full potential.
It Helps Your Teen
Having a mentor made a HUGE difference in my life as a teen. At age 16, my dad, a guitar player, fell off of a stage following a concert, completely shattering his ankle, and died of a massive blood clot in his lungs four weeks later. To add to things, my family learned that his death was caused by medical malpractice. I knew that my dad died because three doctors neglected to read his medical history. As a teen I was heartbroken, lost, scared, and angry.
Most teens will not have to deal with the loss of a parent but the majority will experience the feelings of being heartbroken, lost, scared, and angry during their adolescent years. The world is a difficult place and our teens are faced with many challenges and temptations, all while they are trying to answer the question... "Who am I?".
For me, Jim and Brian were two men that stepped up after my dad passed. They knew I needed a male role model. Jim taught me how to perform magic tricks/illusions which turned into a powerful way for me to cope and build my confidence in front of my peers. He taught me how to build things, he and his wife showed up for every event I was a part of, and they even offered me an internship with their business during high school.
Brian annoyed the snot out of me at first. As an Army veteran, he fully understood the meaning of hard work and he was going to insure that I made it, even if it meant mental boot camp. He constantly called, asked challenging questions about what I wanted to do with my life, and then called back a week later to see if I had accomplished my goal. Sometimes accountability is annoying. Brian was spot on. He helped me realize that I wanted to work with kids, let me know that I could achieve things, and wrote the founding business plan for my company, the very business that has birthed what you're reading now. Beyond that he showed my how to change the oil in my car, helped me shop for my first suit, and bought the fancy dress shoes that I couldn't afford. My life is drastically different because of these great men.
Your teen may not tell you this but they WANT this kind of mentor in their life.
It Helps You as a Parent
When your teen finds a mentor, you often gain an ally. My mom and grandparents loved Jim and Brian. They shared the lessons and values that my mom wanted me to have, but they had one special thing... the "cool factor". Simply put, a mentor can say the same things that you tell your teen but they will hear it and receive it differently (even if their advice echoes yours word-for-word).
In order mentoring to work, your teen must want a relationship with their potential mentor. If it feels forced or set up by you or a someone like a teacher, it usually doesn't work. Think of a person that your teen respects (and will listen to) that also shares your families' values. This should be someone that both you and your teen can trust. Then, encourage your teen to reach out to them. You can also encourage this potential mentor to reach out to your teen (even better idea). If they share a common interest (like Jim and I did with magic and theater) suggest that they schedule an activity doing something that they enjoy.
It Helps the Mentor
At age 25 my role with one of the teens that I counseled changed drastically. This teen was in need of more than a mentor. She was in need of parents. While I felt like that was more than I could bite off, I knew that I was one of very few caring adults in her life. So, one of her other mentors and I took a leap of faith and together we became guardians. Over two years I turned from the counselor to the mentor, and then finally to a guardian. I hung in there long enough to lose my "cool card" and get the infamous teenage eye roll on a regular basis. It was then that I knew I was making a difference. :)
Becoming a mentor to several teens and a guardian for one has changed me. I'm confident that these experiences have prepared me to be a better example in my community, a better advocate for youth, and a better parent someday. One of my favorite sayings is "To Teach is To Learn". I'm thankful for my "kids" and what they have taught me.
If you don't currently mentor a teen I would encourage you to find one that you care about (other than your own) and start. It will make you a better parent (with your own kids) and a better person. Your involvement as a caring adult double a teens chances of success and helps you in the process. What are you waiting for?
I dedicate this blog to the Jim, Michele, and Brian's of the world who are making a difference in the life of a teen. I also dedicate it to teens like Sarah, Benny, Karen, Brandon, and Lillie who are still waiting on that caring adult to step up and tell them that they have what it takes.