The Difference You Can Make as a Positive Youth Mentor and Why it Matters

The Difference You Can Make as a Positive Youth Mentor and Why it Matters

The transition from childhood to adulthood and self-sufficiency can be challenging for any young person. It is estimated that 25% of adolescents are at high or moderately high risk of not achieving “productive adulthood” due to engaging in substance abuse, truancy, delinquency and violence. An additional 25% are at moderate risk based on their involvement in two or fewer of these behaviors (Dryfoos, 1990). Based on the latest U.S. Census, this equates to roughly 11.8 million youth at serious risk of veering off the pathway to successful adulthood.

The presence of a single supportive adult in a young person’s life can spark a transformative change and enable a young person to fulfill their potential. However, it is estimated that one in three young people do not have a mentor, and the rates

are even higher for at-risk youth. Indeed, at-risk youth are less likely to have a mentor and are more likely to want one (Bruce and Bridgeland, 2014).

In a time when mentors are in demand and volunteerism is in a decline, surprising trends have emerged on the rate of mentoring. According to The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, over the past decade (2006-2015), the rates of adult volunteer mentoring have shown gradual, statistically significant growth. This may be a function of expanded programs, federal resources and recruitment efforts—it may also suggest that adult volunteers place a priority on helping children in need. Further, a 2018 report released by The National Mentoring Partnership stated a quarter of our nation’s adults are currently engaged in mentoring relationships: this adds up to about 24 million individuals mentoring in structured programs (roughly 10% of American adults) and 44 million adults mentoring informally in the last year alone. 

The distinction between “structured” and “informal” was key to the National Mentoring Partnership’s findings: you don’t need to be called a mentor in order to be one. Any supportive adult can change the life of a young person positively, whether that adult is a teacher, a coach, a member of a spiritual community or an employer.

The Mentoring Partnership’s 2018 report included outcomes for mentored youth: these youth were 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly and 90% were interested in becoming a mentor themselves. Also, youth with a mentor are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to start drinking and 81% more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities—all protective factors that can help youth navigate the sometimes challenging territory of young adulthood.

Studies have also found that youth with mentors develop better relationships with their parents: they trust their parents more and have better communication skills with them.

And yet, the nature of the mentor-mentee relationship is key: research clearly shows that short-term relationships may actually do more harm than good. It is the constant, long-term relationships with capable, supportive adults that makes the greatest impact on youth whose challenges require additional support.

At this moment in time when so much divides us—culture, race, economics, education—mentoring has the power to unite us, and to turn a young person’s attention from the mistakes of the past to a future filled with opportunity and hope.

This article was originally written as an article in our 2019 Rite of Passage Magazine. To read the full magazine please click here.