Mentoring Program

What Is the Role of a Mentor?

Young people face many challenges as they age. These include trying to excel in academics, making friends, having their first romances, learning to drive, and generally learning how to be the people that they want to be. However, they often have to take on these challenges with little to no first-hand experience. Having an adult that can share his or her knowledge, wisdom and experience can help children and teenagers better understand, navigate and meet the challenges of youth.

The role of a mentor is to provide support, advocacy, tutoring, guidance, and role modeling to a mentee. Although being a mentor may sometimes involve teaching, tutoring, and coaching, it is a distinct role from that of a teacher, tutor, or coach. A mentor doesn’t need to teach a specific lesson or skill; instead, he or she should help the child navigate whatever challenges may be troubling him or her.

Thus, the role of a mentor can look very different when mentoring one child versus another. For example, an older teenager may be focused on preparing for a career, applying to college, and/or experiencing young love. A younger child may be more concerned with fitting in with peers, learning good habits for school, and/or getting support during a difficult time at home. As a mentor, it is your job to listen to your mentee and try to understand how you can best help him or her.

What Does It Mean To Be a Mentor?

Being a mentor is an opportunity to have an impact on a young person’s life. As a mentor, you can help that individual to navigate the challenges that he or she faces every day. While many of them may come as second nature to you as an adult, these challenges are very real and can be very daunting for a child or teenager with limited life experience. For example, working out how to study effectively for a test or how to ask a new friend to hang out can be quite confusing for someone who has never done so before.

This can be an extremely rewarding experience. Young people need guidance to help them find their way in the world. As a mentor, you get to share your insight and wisdom while helping your mentee find a path to a successful life. It is a truly wonderful experience to see someone you have helped thrive. Most kids in our program simply need some positive adult relationships, whether that be with a mentor, foster parent, teacher, or coach. This can be the boost they need to reach their potential.

You don’t have to be an expert on life or have all the answers to be a good mentor. In many cases, simply listening and providing assistance with problem-solving is more than enough. In fact, young people benefit when adults admit that they don’t have all the answers. Providing support, thoughtful guidance, and stability can make a huge difference. Being a mentor is as much about showing up consistently as it is about what you know.

How Is a Mentor Different Than a Coach?

Mentoring and coaching are both roles that can help a young person to achieve success through guidance. While the exact definitions of both of these roles can change to some extent to fit the needs of the individual and situation, at Utah Youth Village, we define the difference as being how the mentor or coach attempts to help the young person.

A mentor’s role is to support, encourage, teach and guide the mentee through whatever problems that he or she may be facing. Often, this is less about skills or knowledge and more about providing stability and experience-based insight to help with the problem. Conversely, coaching is more focused on teaching skills. These may be academic, life, or other skills. Some approaches to coaching emphasize developing specific skills; others are more need-based.

Naturally, there can be some overlap between mentoring and coaching. It is not uncommon for a coach to become a mentor for a young person. Similarly, mentoring often involves some coaching of specific skills and techniques.

Regardless of whether you have a mentor relationship or a coaching relationship with a young person, you will need to be committed to helping them. For many children and teens, simply having someone show up for them can make all the difference in the world.

How Do You Mentor a Child/Youth?

Being a mentor to a child/youth always starts with listening. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring because every child’s needs are different. However, if you make time for the young person, listen to what they have to say, and commit yourself to help in whatever ways you can, you will be on the right path for effective mentoring.

Typically, mentoring involves exploring the problems that are troubling the child. Whenever possible, this should be done by encouraging the young person to think through the issue with him or herself. Mentors can provide a better experience by acting as a guide and supporter rather than trying to fix problems themselves. When appropriate, the mentor should provide feedback and/or share his or her experiences that may be relevant to the topic at hand.

It is important for mentors to be honest with the children they are trying to help. Often, this involves honest feedback and suggestions. It can also involve blunt evaluations of the youth’s decisions when necessary. Furthermore, it is essential that mentors be honest about their own abilities and knowledge. Admitting to mistakes and acknowledging shortcomings are among the qualities of a great mentor.

What Qualifies Someone To Be a Mentor?

In many ways, any adult can become a mentor. Qualifying for our mentorship program is more about the attitude you bring to the table than your specific history or accomplishments. These are some characteristics of an effective mentor:

  • Empathy
  • Ability to actively listen
  • Respectful of young people, even those facing difficulties
  • An enduring and sincere desire to help youths
  • Ability to analyze a problem to identify solutions and opportunities

Exactly what mentoring looks like will depend on the relationship between the mentor and mentee. It will also likely change throughout the relationship depending on the needs of the mentee.

All mentors in our program must be able and willing to make the necessary time commitment. Working with youths can happen at pre-approved appointments, extracurricular activities, or other mentoring opportunities as approved by the child’s case manager. Providing consistent support to the young people in our program is our top priority. Therefore, we ask that all mentors carefully consider whether they are able to make the necessary commitment before applying.

Getting involved with our mentorship program will require an approval process that will involve a background check and references. As with our foster parents, it is important that our mentors be capable of working with and supporting children. Contact us to learn more about the application process.

What Age Should a Mentor Be?

Adults of all ages can be mentors to young people. However, we typically find that the most effective mentors are those that are old and mature enough to support children. The exact age range is slightly different for everyone, but most mentors are in their late-20s, 30s, or 40s. Some may be older, but young people often have an easier time connecting with people in that age range.

Naturally, all mentors should be at least several years older than their mentees, and they should be able to look back on their experiences with the benefit of hindsight. Therefore, all mentors should be adults, and an 18-year-old should not be mentoring a 17-year-old.
It is often more important that the mentor have relevant life experiences than be of a particular age. Thus, we are always looking for adults of all backgrounds to join our mentorship program. Having similar backgrounds can help mentors and mentees to foster relationships of trust and respect.

What Are the 3 A’s of Mentorship?

Mentorship is an involved process that requires patience, empathy, and understanding. If you think that you want to join our mentorship program, you may be interested in learning what you will need to bring to the mentor relationship. The following three A’s are the core of mentorship.

Availability

First and foremost, you need to be available for your mentee. This means making time in your schedule to meet with him or her. It also means always showing up when you say you will (excluding cases of illness or major emergencies). Many children in our program have previously been let down by adults who do not make themselves sufficiently available.

Furthermore, you need to be emotionally available. In other words, you need to be prepared to make and sustain a connection with your mentee. If you are closed off or distant, you will not be able to provide the support and kindness that your mentee needs.

Active Listening

Every mentor should be prepared to actively listen. This starts with simply stopping talking. However, more than just being quiet, active listening requires the listener to be focused on what is being said. Many people struggle with this, and it is okay to be imperfect. Nonetheless, you should always strive to listen closely to what the youth has to say.

Additionally, you should guide the conversation and offer feedback when relevant. Of course, you should try to avoid simply dictating the course of conversation. This can be a difficult balance to master.

Analysis

Finally, you will need to provide analysis and insight to your mentee. As a mentor, it is your job to use your experience and knowledge to help with the young person’s problems. You will need to be honest without being unkind. Sometimes children need a reality check, but they don’t need to be attacked or made to feel small for making mistakes.

Your goal should be to provide an objective perspective on problems, not simply side with your mentee. They will sometimes talk to you about personal conflicts in which they may have some fault. Learning to be straightforward and honest while still demonstrating empathy is important.

Contact Us To Join Our Mentorship Program

Are you interested in joining Utah Youth Village’s mentorship program? Reach out to us today by contacting Jenny Swensen at 801-361-7046 or by email at jswensen@youthvillage.org.