Why Your Child Needs A Mentor (Who Isn’t Mom or Dad)



    Shelly drifted into my life at just the right time. I was a freshman in college and looking for help to #adult (although this was years before hashtags and “adulting” gained popularity). She led me and other university girls in a small group every Monday night at church.

    Which means I saw her every week. She knew and cared about what was happening in my life on a weekly basis. She asked questions and listened to me. She was present.

    As the years went by, I sought Shelly out for her wisdom, advice, accountability and encouragement. She was at my wedding, visited me twice while I lived in Europe, and we still meet for coffee or enjoy dinner together. 

    Shelly was, still is, and will continue to be my encourager, my sounding board, my wise counsel – my mentor.

    This photo was taken when Shelly visited me in Germany, 8 years after she first became my mentor.

    What is a mentor? 

    A mentor is a trustworthy person who actively engages and counsels someone younger in years, knowledge or experiences. A mentor is committed to a personal relationship with the mentee and desires to see their success and growth.

    The benefits of mentorship.

    Have you ever considered finding a mentor for your child or teenager? If not, allow me to persuade you with one of these compelling and encouraging reasons:

    • Young people who have a mentor are “more confident in their academic abilities and considerably less likely to display behavioral problems.”
    • Girls who have a mentor are 2.5 times more likely to be successful in school.
    • Boys who are mentored are 3 times less likely to battle peer pressure related to anxiety. Those same boys are also more likely to understand the importance of academic success and therefore are 2 times as likely to think school is fun!
    • Students who have a mentor are more likely to graduate high school and are 50% more likely to attend college.
    • Mentorship even diminishes the likelihood of bullying, lying, cheating or raging anger in boys.
    • In general mentorship relationships decrease the use of drugs or alcohol in the mentee.
    • Young people who have a mentor have healthier relationships with parents, peers and teachers and have boosted their interpersonal social skills.
    • They also make better lifestyle choices, have higher levels of self-confidence and self-esteem.

    Who can be a mentor for your child?

    After reading that list above, I hope you can conceptualize the significance of finding someone to mentor your child. So who fits the mold of a mentor?

    Anyone but Mom and Dad.

    I don’t say that to hurt your feelings or to diminish your worth. As a parent, you have infinite opportunities to establish a trustworthy relationship of modeling and coaching your children! But there is a point during those tumultuous adolescent years when your teen will thrive with a mentor who isn’t Mom or Dad.

    Mentors can be teachers, coaches or any school faculty member (principal, counselor, club leader, etc.). A mentor could also be a church leader, neighbor, extended family member, or family friend.

    Qualities to look for in a mentor.

    A mentor, coach or counselor is someone who displays

    • Trustworthiness. For obvious reasons, your child needs someone who is trustworthy to keep their secrets. But a mentor also needs to be trustworthy enough to love your child when he/she fails or when tough words need to be spoken.
      “I believe in you even though you didn’t make the cheerleading squad.”
      “I know that it will upset you, but together we need to talk to your parents about your depression.”
    • Wisdom. A mentor should provide wise counsel and sound advice. Take a broad look at the mentor’s life and you should be able to observe if they are capable of providing this. Trust me, it should be pretty obvious.
    • Active listening. A mentor should be able to listen more than they speak. Often a child or teen needs someone to hear their heart and love them despite their emotions. Once trust is established, a mentor who listens will be able to respond and the child will actually listen. 
      Parents, you may find it difficult to imagine that your kid can actually listen! But take hear, it’s possible.
    • Accountability and Encouragement. A mentor can push the child to their full potential without shoving them into blatant failure. He/she holds them accountable to standards at the top of their threshold. When encouraged to more, a child will often respond and meet the demands. A mentor can decipher the fine line between shoving too hard and pushing too gently. 
      In the reality of a youth, Mom and Dad often push too hard and expect too much.
    • Perspective and Decision-Making Skills. A mentor lends a broad perspective about life (because youth haven’t experienced all of life and of course Mom and Dad have no idea what they are talking about). And a mentor fosters healthy decision-making skills, coping mechanisms, social interactions, and hope for the future.

    In addition to those key character traits, a mentor needs to be someone who naturally meshes with your kid! Don’t pick someone who you think is best for your child…pick the person who is most likely to hang out with your child while doing the normal kid/teenage stuff of life – while also instilling healthy habits, patterns and conversations into their mentor-mentee relationship.

    Helpful hint: As a matter of fact, you many not want to speak the word “mentor” with your teen; that could completely turn your adolescent away from this beneficial relationship! It could feel like pressure to meet your parental expectations or heighten the negative associations of “only kids who need help get mentored.” 

    A season of mentorship.

    Mentors can last for a lifetime or come and go with the seasons. I’m still in touch with Shelly, but I’ve had other mentors who remained for a simple season – which was the perfect amount of time and doesn’t lessen their impact!

    Reduce the pressure to have the perfect mentor for your entire life. Different people offer various coaching abilities. A coach could help your kid gain confidence in their physical abilities, a personal tutor could boost their confidence in their knowledge, a family friend could increase their self-esteem, and a neighbor could impact their social skills. 

    How to talk with your child’s mentor.

    And I’m sure you’re wondering – yes, it’s acceptable to contact your child’s mentor. Thank them for their time and desire to be with your child.

    Encourage them to keep confidence but to share important things with you. For example, it is always necessary for a mentor to tell the mentee’s parents when the mentee is suicidal, engaging in self-harm, depressed, anxious, participating in illegal activities, bullying, etc.

    But it is not necessary for a mentor to tell the mentee’s parents about their latest crush, a struggle with a friend, feeling stressed to decide a college major, getting annoyed with their siblings, etc.

    The bottom line…

    The bottom line is…help your child find a mentor. Take the time to drive your child to the mentor’s office to spend their lunch break together. Invite their mentor over for family dinner. Trust another person to love, encourage and walk beside your kid while genuinely wanting the best for your baby!