Mentoring Today's Teens - Dire Need for Mentors
By J.C. Delfino III
Today’s kids are in dire need of responsible adults’ interaction. Today the top three causes of teen age deaths are accidents, murder and suicide. A large percentage of the accidents are automobile accidents with teens behind the wheel. We have teens killing themselves or others in alarming numbers. An average of 16,000 teens die every year and of those 8,000 to accidents, 1,200 murders, and 1,200 suicides (Hendrick).
Mentoring can and does save lives. We need responsible adults to step up and become part of the lives of America’s kids. This will enable more teens to live longer fuller lives and be able to contribute to our society.
A Gallup poll taken in 2006 stated the top three things that teens see as the most important problems in America today. 1: Drugs, smoking and alcohol 2: Peer Pressure / Social Acceptance: fitting in, looks, popularity etc.; and 3: Sexual Issues like teen pregnancy, abortion, and STD’s (Carroll).
Teens themselves seem to think these three areas are most problematic for their generation. These are things I do not want my teenaged children concerned about, but these are the issues they deal with on a personal level every day.
Recently my 14 year old son came home and told me one of his friends is pregnant, a 14 year old girl, pregnant. He went on to say she wasn’t the first in his school. My 17 year old daughter would tell me how drugs like marijuana and mushrooms are not considered bad drugs and are pretty common around her school. Every child, indeed every person, struggles with the area of peer pressure and fitting in.
What can we do? As responsible adults whether or not we are parents, we must step up and become active in the lives of these kids. There are many suggestions and opinions out there, and the blame usually falls on the parents. I recently spoke on this issue and the first question that was asked was, “Where are the parents?” This is a very legitimate question. In a society where 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, more and more families are being left in shambles and single parents are trying to work and raise kids at the same time (“Divorce Rate”).
But even in homes where both parents are present, both parents are usually working, leaving teens to raise themselves and usually younger siblings. “Images of the traditional family still dominate our televisions and magazines, but they do not represent how most Americans live. In 2002, only 7 percent of all U.S. households consisted of married couples with children in which only the husband worked” (“Traditional Families”).
It is obvious that we need to step up programs, like the boys and girls club, in which “4.2 million young people served through membership and community outreach” (“Facts and Figures”). Although programs like these are fantastic and need to have public, private and govemermental support, they are not enough. Kids need more then a place to hang out. They need people in their lives to help them with the stress of day to day life.
I recently spoke with a 20 year old homeless man about this issue; I will call him “Joe”. Joe dropped out of school and has been struggling ever since. I asked him why he dropped out and he replied, “At the time I was having serious family problems and couldn’t deal with the stress of school.” I asked him if someone would have stepped up and helped him at this time, would it have made a difference? He responded that if someone had stepped up and helped him and directed him he could have finished school, but being alone he didn’t have the strength to do it.
Stepping up and reaching out are very difficult things to do, but to begin moving, getting out of our seats and rising to the occasion we can help young men and women across this country. This can be done with great organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters or just reaching out to the kid next door.
Let’s take a moment to look at Big Brothers Big Sisters which I will call BBBS. The BBBS is wonderful, proven organization with documented positive results. The BBBS conducted a study where 950 kids across the country were chosen the show the results of mentoring. Half the kids were teamed up with a mentor, while the other half were not. The mentors met with the kids three times a month for a year and then the kids were compared to the other kids who didn’t receive mentoring. The results were staggering. The kids who received mentoring were 46% less likely to begin using drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, 37% less likely to skip a class and 33% less likely to hit someone (“Big Impact”).
This study’s results mirrors the results that Mentoring.org posts on their website. The website states that kids are 46% less likely to do drugs, 27% less likely to use alcohol and 52% less likely to skip a day of school. Mentoring.org also lists other positive results in that kids show, including, better self-esteem, more likely to succeed in school, better social attitudes and relationships. Mentored youth even tend to trust their parents more and are willing to better communicate with them (“The Value of Mentoring”).
Anyone can be a mentor, and everyone has something to offer. You have things about you that you can share with the next generation. I recently took my family on a day trip to a local state park, and we took another teen with us. This child spent the day with us and we had a wonderful time, and I even had a chance to talk about college life to this high school student and we talked about the importance of good grades. Yes, even something so small and trivial is mentoring. The key to successful mentoring is being you and letting the child be himself. There are many things you can do to make sure that you succeed properly in mentoring. The state of Michigan put together a powerful list of suggestions for a great mentor. This list included things like commitment, being consistent, dependable, and trustworthy. You should always value the diverse differences between you and the mentee, you will probably come from different cultures, financial status and maybe even religious background and remember, you are an advisor not a preacher. You are there to give advice not to dwell on the things they are doing “wrong”. Be a sympathetic listener, but you don’t have to be a psychologist. Talk to the mentee’s parents, teachers, counselor or other significant persons in the mentee’s life if you encounter problems you cannot help with. You are part of a group concerned about this child’s well-being (“20+ Ways to be a Great Mentor”).
Being a mentor is a win-win situation; it improves the lifestyle of the mentee and pays huge personal rewards to the mentor. Bill Berg stated in his book The Go-Giver, “The most valuable gift you have to give is yourself” (1441). There is no one else who can give the gift of you. No one else has to offer what you have to offer. Kids in your neighborhood need you today. Some are struggling with the desire to get out of bed and go to school; many are struggling with the feelings that no one cares what they do. Joe said he would tell kids now facing the problems he had faced, “It will be OK, keep to the grindstone; you can make your dreams come true.” Powerful advice. Advice we need to share with the next generation.
Barrett, Joe. Personal interview. 6 Apr. 2011.
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