Commentary

The connection between improved mental health and youth mentoring

January 29, 2024 7:00 am

Research suggests that children and youth engaged in formal mentoring programs, especially those involved for a year or more, reported significantly fewer behavioral problems and fewer symptoms of depression and social anxiety when compared to non-mentored youths. (Getty Images)

A New Year has arrived, kids are back in school, and National Mentoring Month is coming to a close. While the benefits youth receive from being involved in a quality mentoring program have been well established, we continue to learn more about the connection between mentoring and improved mental health.

National Mentoring Month is led by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, which for more than twenty years has worked to increase the quality and quantity of youth mentoring  relationships.

MENTOR’s research shows the majority of Americans see mentoring relationships as powerful tools for connection and critical for our country’s future.

  • Nearly nine in 10 people feel that more mentoring is needed in our country.
  • More than eight in 10 people support the use of government funds to grow mentoring opportunities.

Youth with a mentor are:

  • 92% more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities.
  • 75% more likely to have held a leadership position in a club or sports team.
  • 22% more likely to have experienced a strong sense of belonging while growing up.

Adults who were mentored as youth report lasting, tangible effects:

  • 74% say that their mentor contributed significantly to their success later in life.
  • 69% of young adults say that this relationship helped them with issues related to their education.
  • 58% say their mentor has supported their mental health.

Research suggests that children and youth engaged in formal mentoring programs, especially those involved for a year or more, reported significantly fewer behavioral problems and fewer symptoms of depression and social anxiety when compared to non-mentored youths. Structured mentoring programs provide mentors with screening, training, and on-going support, creating opportunities for those mentors to build close and secure relationships with youth that:

  • Model effective adult communications and pro-social behavior
  • Help youth express and regulate emotions
  • Improve perception of the value of personal relationships
  • Enhance mentee self-esteem through praise and encouragement
  • Help youth choose adaptive coping strategies for managing environmental strategies
  • Allow for the youth discovery of unique abilities
  • Increase positive attitudes toward learning.

Yet, we also know that one in three young people in our country grows up without a mentor outside their family. The mentoring gap equates to 9 million young people without a mentor to assist them as they mature into adulthood. MENTOR Indiana, as the state affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, strives to expand local opportunities for youth to engage in quality mentoring programs.

Quality mentoring programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Big Brothers Big Sisters, started in 1904, is likely the most well-known mentoring program, providing screening, training, matching and support for thousands of mentees each year. Some programs, like College Mentors for Kids, focus on specific groups, in this case college students, to serve as mentors. Many faith-based mentoring programs have long understood the value of providing young people with support beyond their family members.

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The key to all quality mentoring programs is a shared understanding that successful mentoring requires safety, impact, and equity standards. MENTOR’s Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM includes evidence-based standards that have been co-created with mentoring programs. They are intended for use in almost every type of youth mentoring program.

Furthermore, eight supplemental standards are available to assist programs focused on STEM, workplace programs, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, and peer, group, or virtual mentoring programs. Each standard aims to ensure the safety and effectiveness of mentoring programs and the relationships they support.

New years bring new hope. January is National Mentoring Month, and Indiana Youth Institute is celebrating the annual campaign aimed at expanding quality mentoring opportunities and connecting more of our community’s young people with caring adults. Mentoring can be a critical component in young people’s lives, helping them make the decisions and connections that lead to their improved well-being and improved future opportunities. In discussions of our children’s needs, specifically their mental health needs, mentoring offers a bright spot worth celebrating this and every month.

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Tami Silverman
Tami Silverman

Tami Silverman is President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Working with the board of directors, she determines the overall direction of IYI and serves as the organization’s primary spokesperson, advocating for programs, innovations, and policies that benefit children and youth. Tami draws upon her 25 years of experience managing teams to set the stage for dedicated, curious and focused individuals to create positive impact and lasting change.

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