A mentor is an adult your child trusts, admires and respects — someone who provides support and guidance and is actively involved in your child's life. The mentor may be a friend, relative, neighbor, teacher, volunteer with a community organization or an online mentoring program that helps students via email. Research shows that a mentoring relationship can have long-lasting, positive effects on a child's life.
The role a mentor plays in your child's life
The National Mentoring Partnership describes mentors this way: "Mentors are good listeners, people who care and want to help young people bring out strengths that are already there." A mentor might be the music teacher your child really likes, a coach who instills the value of hard work and high expectations or the college student down the street who plays chess with your 10-year-old. A mentor might be an older relative who is a great listener. Children and mentors both benefit from this unique relationship.
For a mentoring relationship to work well, your child must feel comfortable with and trust the mentor and be able to communicate openly and freely with the person. The relationship may be a formal one sponsored by an organization, where children and mentors meet at planned times in small groups or one-on-one, or it may be an informal arrangement where the mentor and your child meet in a more casual way. The relationship will only be helpful if the fit is right.
A mentor may do some of the following:
- Listen and give good advice.
- Spend time with your child regularly.
- Help a child make good choices.
- Share knowledge.
- Instill values.
- Serve as a role model.
- Offer encouragement.
- Help a child set and reach goals.
A mentor is not a babysitter, therapist or substitute parent. A mentor provides a more informal kind of support than your child gets from you or from caregivers and professionals.
Finding a mentor
Here are some suggestions on how to find a mentor for your child.
- Consider the reasons you are seeking a mentor for your child. This will help define your search for the right mentoring program and mentor. For example, a college student may be an ideal match for a child who hopes to attend college one day.
- Look for someone in your circle of friends, family and community. A single friend who has no children might make a great mentor for your son or daughter. A college student also might enjoy spending time with your child.
- Talk with a teacher, counselor or administrator at your child's school. School counselors, teachers and other staff members who know your child well may be able to suggest someone or provide you with resources.
- 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 might be able to suggest where to find a mentor.
- Ask about mentoring programs in your community or on your installation. Many business and community groups offer programs. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America has established character-development programs for young people at installation Youth Centers and in local communities. You might look into the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which matches children on and off military installations with mentors through hundreds of affiliates around the country.
- Visit the website for the National Mentoring Partnership. This national organization has an online directory that lets you search by ZIP code for mentoring programs in your area. It also has information on how a mentor can help your child and what qualities to look for in a mentor.
- Explore e-mentoring opportunities. E-mentoring — also known as telementoring or teletutoring — is mentoring that takes place online. Students are matched with adult volunteers in different fields and communicate by email about school, jobs and other concerns, typically for about 30 to 45 minutes per week. To learn about e-mentoring, go to the International Telementor Program.
- Find out if the Foster Grandparents program exists in your community. Foster Grandparents is a government program that encourages adults over the age of 55 to serve as role models, mentors and friends to children who are disadvantaged or disabled, often through partnerships 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. Your child's teacher or school counselor may be able to tell you whether foster grandparent programs are available in your community.
When looking for a mentor for your child, whether it is an e-mentor or someone your child sees in person, always take the following safety precautions:
- Make sure that any formal program conducts background checks on mentors. Mentors should also be carefully matched with students based on mutual interests.
- Verify that mentoring programs require a trained adult to facilitate communication. The facilitator should monitor and manage the program and include a process for closure when mentoring relationships end.
- Ask to see any licenses or certification. Your state or community may require programs to have such qualifications.
- Check references. If you're working with a formal program, ask for the names of others who have used it and call to find out how they felt about the experience. If you're working with a person recommended by someone you know, ask for personal references.
Once you have found a mentor or a mentoring program, make sure you and your child are comfortable with the person. Then make time for the relationship. Studies show that mentoring has the most positive impact when children and mentors meet on a regular basis for at least a year.