Even the most promising kids get lost some times, and for those without a strong support system at home or elsewhere the chances of losing their way are greater. They drop out, act out or fall through the cracks, and way too often are not heard of again until they end up in trouble.
A stable adult in a young person’s life can often make the difference between staying on track and wandering off. Being a mentor – an adviser, supporter, believer and friend – is one way to be that stable person.
Mentors help keep students in school, help build their self-esteem and guide them through problems of daily living. They are friends and role models and gateways to a world of greater opportunity and potential than might otherwise be.
Based on a study of mentoring programs, Mentor, the National Mentoring Association, says mentors can play a positive role in many aspects of a young person’s life, such as academics, social interaction and risk-taking behavior. As examples:
• Mentors help with homework and can improve their mentees’ academic skills. Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37 percent less likely to skip a class.
• Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking.
• Mentors provide teens with a valuable place to spend free time; about 40 percent of a teenager’s waking hours are spent without companionship or supervision.
• Mentors offer support for students trying new behaviors.
There is, of course, more. Almost anyone who has mentored a youth has a story of mutual growth, laughter and good times, in addition to the satisfaction of helping a youth. The commitment of time – regular, specified and predictable – is critical, even if it is only a few hours each month.
A mentoring program is nothing new. Mentor, adviser to Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, is the eponym of the idea – the name, of course, recalling the Greek and Roman words for mind.
Several organizations here have mentoring programs, and a new coalition, Evanston Mentors, will help match those who would like to become mentors with youth who would like to have a mentor.
Mentoring is the opposite, or maybe just the counterpart of “tough love.” It is kind and supporting, firm and nurturing.
We urge anyone who can spare the time to give themselves a chance and give a child a break – or maybe we mean they should give themselves a break and give a child a chance.