Sometimes other adults have the special gift of helping our children see and use their strengths and talents. This is mentorship. A mentor is an adult your child trusts, admires and respects who provides support and guidance and is actively involved in your child's life. In short, a mentor is there to remind your child that there is always someone in his or her corner to help navigate life's tricky situations.
Elements of a good mentoring relationship
Seek these elements when choosing a mentor:
- Your child feels comfortable with the mentor.
- The relationship is based on mutual trust.
- The relationship is based on similar interests and hobbies.
- The child and mentor spend time together on a regular basis.
What you can expect from a mentor
A mentor can provide the following for your child:
- A listening ear, good advice and encouragement
- Help making good choices
- Shared knowledge based on the mentor's specific skills
- Modeling of good values
- Support in setting and reaching specific goals
Remember that a mentor is not a baby sitter, therapist or substitute parent. A mentor provides informal support that differs from your child's relationship with you, caregivers or professionals.
Finding mentors in your everyday life
When looking for a mentor, be sure to look around at the adults who already have influence in your child's life. You should also consider why you're seeking a mentor for your child. This will help in your search for the best fit. For example, a college student may be an ideal match for a child who hopes to attend college one day. Consider some of the following possibilities:
- A teacher who gets along well with your child
- A local college student who enjoys spending time with kids
- An older relative who listens well and is trusted by your child
- A coach who encourages your child to work hard and reach his or her potential
- A friend without children interested in spending time with your child
Other ways to find a mentor
A wide range of programs exist to help you find the right mentor for your child:
- Look for a mentor in your faith community. Many places of worship have mentoring programs for young people. If there's no formal program, a clergy member can suggest where to find a mentor.
- Explore e-mentoring opportunities. E-mentoring (or telementoring or teletutoring) is mentoring online. Students are matched with adult volunteers in different fields and communicate by email about school, jobs and other concerns. To learn more, go to the International Telementor Program.
- Find out if the Foster Grandparents program serves your community. Foster Grandparents is a government program encouraging adults over the age of 55 to serve as role models, mentors and friends to children who are disadvantaged or disabled. Many times they work with schools, community agencies or Head Start programs. Foster grandparents may read to, tutor, offer guidance or other forms of support for children. To learn more, visit the Senior Corps website.
Keeping your child safe in a mentoring relationship
When you’re looking for a mentor for your child, whether online or in person, keep safety in mind:
- Ask questions. Feel free to ask formal mentorship programs about their procedures for screening and training mentors, and keeping children and youth safe.
- Ensure formal programs conduct background checks on mentors. Mentors should also be carefully matched with students based on similar interests.
- Verify that the mentoring programs require a trained adult to facilitate the mentoring relationship. The facilitator should monitor and manage the program and include a process for closure when the mentoring relationship is over.
- Ask to see any licenses or certification. Your state or community may require programs to have such qualifications, and it is wise to ask to see them.
- Check references. If you're working with a formal program, ask for names of others who have participated and call to find out what kind of experience they had with the program. If you're working with a person recommended by someone you know, be sure to ask for personal references.
Provide your child with basic personal safety rules to help them trust their instincts, and discuss what to do if something doesn't feel right. If you don't know how to start the conversation, read, "How to Help Your Children Protect Themselves From Sexual Abuse" or contact your installation Family Advocacy Program for more information.
If you think your child might benefit from having a mentor, talk it through and take your time finding the right match. And remember - mentorship is most successful when both people benefit from time spent together. Just as adults can share their wisdom with youth, youth can help adults learn and grow, too.