I am continually reminded of the importance of young people understanding that they are responsible for the choices they make each day; that every choice has a consequence and, if they are experiencing challenging times or abuse of any sort, they can choose to speak to someone they can trust, despite possible fears they might have of the consequences of such decisions. Their health and wellbeing is critical to reaching their potential and this is where a mentor can be that non-judgmental wise guide on the side building a resilient youth..

Why a mentor should foster resiliency

Resilience is a process of connectedness as a competent and emotionally stable mentor links to their mentees, to their interests, and ultimately to life itself.

When you connect with your mentees, as you do when you foster resiliency, you meet their emotional safety needs. While you cannot remove stress and adversity from their lives, providing them with emotional safety puts them in a position to develop problem-solving and social skills. As the mentees develop these skills along with competence in an area of their choice, they strengthen their self-confidence, self-esteem and sense of efficacy, identify and develop personal strengths and can rally the resources they need to stay strong when adversity threatens to overwhelm.

What happens when a mentee connects with their mentor?

The power of effective mentoring will build resilient youths. My research over many years state that mentees who connect with their mentor:

  • are in a mutually caring, respectful mentoring relationship, in which the mentor encourages and nurtures their resilient quailities;
  • have opportunities for meaningful involvement;
  • get along better with their parents or caregivers, and teachers (authority figures);
  • develop a more positive attitude to life;
  • achieve more at school;
  • reduce their drug usage, alcohol abuse, truancy and other antisocial activities.

10 tips for building a resilient youth

Family therapist, author and internationally recognized expert on resilience among youth and families, Michael Unger, has written ten tips for building a resilient youth. I have adapted these and added further thoughts about the power of mentoring to support these valuable tips.

  1. RELATIONSHIPS: Encourage a child to make a strong connection with at least one caring adult role model, other than his or her parent. Youth mentoring research encourages a young person to seek three significant adults to be their cheerleaders or mentors during their adolescent years, people who offer unconditional, non-judgmental care. Teachers, coaches, grandparents or close relatives can all undertake this mentoring role. When this occurs, the young person will develop some important relationship-building skills that could be life-changing.
  2. CONTROL: There are many important decisions children can make at every stage of their development. Be sure to give them the chance to feel what it’s like to make decisions they’re ready to make, and experience the consequences. Mentors should, therefore, refrain from offering advice for as long as possible. Encourage the young person to come up with solutions. They often surprise us. This is self-empowerment!
  3. EXPECTATIONS: Children need to know that they are expected to do their best, whatever that best is. A child who doesn’t believe anyone cares how well they do is a child who might feel lost and alone. Mentors can identify and name specific strengths they discern in a young person. Talk about these and ensure that the young person takes ownership of them. These can be life-changing and self-empowering moments. Never accept a second-best effort.
  4. IDENTITY: Give children genuine opportunities to show others what makes them unique. Avoid superficial pats on the back that even the child knows mean nothing. Mentors must be authentic at all times. Share your stories to show your unique character and then encourage the young person to walk a similar journey.
  5. SAFETY and SUPPORT: No matter how chaotic life gets, remember children cope best when they feel safe, secure and certain about their next meal. Families should eat together at least three times a week. Mentors should talk about this with the young people they are guiding to discover the family dynamics.
  6. CONTRIBUTION: Offer children a chance to make a contribution to their communities. Volunteer activities ensure children see themselves as competent, while they gather around themselves peers and adults who will see them as special. Mentors can model what volunteering looks like. Often powerful discussions between a mentor and a young person occur during such time of selfless service.
  7. BELONGING: The best way to make a child feel they belong is to give them a chance to show they have a place in [the] family. Does the family have a pet? Who feeds it and looks after it? A good conversation topic between a mentor and a young person. Can the young person cook dinner once a week, help look after a younger sibling, or babysit?
  8. CULTURE: Offer children knowledge of their ancestors, and a sense of pride in where they come from will follow. The best way to help a child feel this pride is for them to share information about themselves in a safe, non-threatening environment. Let them bring a favourite family food to the next school class party; do something traditional for a birthday celebration, or allow them to invite friends to a cultural event. Mentors can ask the young person to share information about their family. Some students do not even know what careers their grandparents followed. Have them find out. This is another topic for informal discussion.
  9. ACCEPTANCE: There are few things children crave more than acceptance. It’s the foundation for attachment. Let the child know they are welcome in your family, at their school, and in their community. Even problem behaviours are often a cry for help. Accept that the child is trying, as best as they can, to get what they need. You don’t have to accept the specific problem behaviour to still accept the child as someone worthy of your love. Mentors can play a significant role as the non-judgmental cheerleader, especially when the family dynamics might be difficult.
  10. SOCIAL JUSTICE: Teach children to stand up for their rights. If there is a battle your child can fight for themself, coach them on how to argue respectfully for their rights. During this time coach them on how to ‘listen’ respectfully and with empathy. Mentors can play a key area in guiding young people in the area of resolving conflicts, handling social media, being responsible with regard to use of social media, and learning to tolerate and respect others who think differently from them.

Blog photo by Anoof Junaid