As a parent or a family member of a child or adolescent we like to think of ourselves as having the most, or most valued, impact on our kids. In addition we like to believe that if our child is “well adjusted” that all of their needs are being met.
Throughout my years of working with children and adolescents, through countless hours of research, there is one piece we so often forget in our child’s healthy development socially, emotionally and cognitively: we neglect to think about the important influence of a non-related mentor.
Once children’s hormones begin to stir in those emotionally chaotic years, their intrinsic desires to spend time with their families usually dwindles.
This is due to their overwhelming need to find autonomy and their own sense of identity. This is completely normal and natural, however a struggle for many parents can be to find the right balance of “friend” and “parent”. We want our children to feel comfortable talking to us about anything, however research indicates that they just don’t.
Youth feel far more confident talking to someone other than his or her family members about everything!
I know this can be a tough adjustment period for parents as they mourn the loss of that little boy or girl who used to so readily divulge the most mundane details of their lives, and develop into this new mysterious and emotional being.
One relationship model that has proven to help this disconnect is a formal mentor/mentee relationship. These relationships, if done in the right context, can be a great liaison between adolescent and parent.
In fact, in the article “Mentoring Programs for Adolescents: A Research Summary” written by Cynthia L. Sipe, it was concluded that mentoring relationships actually help improve the child’s relationship with their parent. They also conclude that mentoring leads to a decrease in unexplained school absences and helped improve the child’s perception of their own academic abilities.
During a time in their lives where they will naturally push away from you as their parent, isn’t it wonderful to know that this is a healthy, natural and effective way to help improve this? This information is crucial in developing programs like the ones run at Routes Youth Centre in Dundas.
For youth to feel like they are important to their mentor, they need to be able to find their mentor when they need them, and know what to expect.
Consistency and the commitment of the mentor are very important to the youth. This reliability helps to develop trust in the relationship.
Routes Youth Centre has a small, consistent staff base. The youth are able to always find one of two full time staff, and the part-time staff are scheduled on a consistent basis. Once the youth feels comfortable relying on their mentor, the mentor’s ability to project an open, honest and respectful demeanour while with the youth is crucial in the success of furthering their rapport.
To encourage the youth to feel empowered, arranging programming that is tailored to their interests and culture are very important things to keep in mind as well. Routes programming is all “of, by and for” the youth. This means that the aim is to develop programing that will foster the youth’s interests as well as providing a meaningful and fun way to strengthen the bond between mentor and mentee.
Routes Youth Centre is an example of a community based, accessible service that may well help ease the transition from child to young adult.
As a parent, it might seem like an odd suggestion to trust, or introduce another adult into your adolescent’s life.
However, if this mentor is someone you know and trust (or if they work for a credited social service agency) this may just be the missing link in your communication with your adolescent.•
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Charlotte grew up in Barrie Ontario and attended the University of Windsor to receive her B.A [H] in Drama in Education and Community, Psychology. She is also the Assistant Director at Routes Youth Centre – 10 Market Street South, Dundas. www.routesyouthcentre.ca