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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. According to a 2008 study published by the National Library of Medicine, mentoring has favorable effects on behavioral, attitudinal, health-related, interpersonal, motivational and career outcomes. If you feel your child or teen would benefit from having a trusted adult to mentor and help navigate academic, career or life milestones, here are some suggestions to help your child find the right mentor.
Establishing mentoring goals
Before you search for the right mentor, be sure you understand your child or teen’s goal for seeking mentorship. Does your child need assistance with a recent move and transition to a new school? Does your youth want to receive academic coaching? Is your teen looking for career and postsecondary education counseling? Answering these questions first will help narrow where to look for a mentor.
Elements of a good mentoring relationship
In addition to seeking a mentor that’s the right fit for your child or teen’s needs, look for 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, hobbies or goals.
- The child and mentor spend time together or have the opportunity to spend time together on a regular basis, either in person or virtually.
What you can expect from a mentor
A mentor can provide the following for your child:
- A listening ear, good advice and encouragement, whether challenges are transitional, academic, career-related or other
- Help for 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 babysitter, 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
While formal mentoring programs can be a huge help to your child, the right mentor might already be part of your life. When looking for a mentor, consider the adults who already have influence in your child’s life. As mentioned above, understand why you’re seeking a mentor for your child in order to assist 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 youth
- 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 family friend interested in spending time with your child
Finding mentors through volunteering
You and your children are part of a community committed to serving, and there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in and around your installation. Volunteering is a great way for youth to build community, add experiences and skills to their resumes, and make connections with caring and supportive adults. Your installation youth center or Military and Family Support Center can connect your youth to a volunteer coordinator who can provide a list of volunteer openings.
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.
- Contact your installation’s youth program. Find out if there are mentoring programs available on your installation.
- Explore Youth.gov mentoring resources. This website offers a number of resources for understanding the different types and benefits of mentoring as well as programs available to youth.
- Find out if the AmeriCorps Seniors 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 and offer guidance or other forms of support for children. To learn more, visit the AmeriCorps website.
- If your teen is seeking a mentor to help explore and guide career and postsecondary schooling choices, check out the youth employment essentials for more information.
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, “Teach Your Kids Healthy Body Boundaries” 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.
If you have additional questions about mentoring and the resources available to military-connected youth, contact Military OneSource to speak to one of our consultants. Call 800-342-9647, view international calling options or schedule a live chat.