Michael Garrow highlights the challenges and core principles of youth mentorship

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Whether educating or administrating, Michael Garrow insists that youth mentorship must guide development efforts. As a long-time educator in the greater Madison, Wisconsin area, Mr. Garrow noticed a major decrease in student performance and wellness when organizations ignored youth mentorship initiatives.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell (author of The Moment of Youth) backs up this observation and recently cited a mentorship study in an article on Psychology Today:

A five year study sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada found that children with mentors were more confident and had fewer behavioral problems. Girls in the study were four times less likely to become bullies than those without a mentor and boys were two times less likely. In general, young people showed increased belief in their abilities to succeed in school and felt less anxiety related to peer pressure.

As someone that is deeply aware of Dr. Price-Mitchell’s work, as well as numerous other studies on the positive effects of youth mentorship, Michael Garrow shares his three main principles and challenges of youth mentorship.

Youth Mentorship is All About Building Trust.

Formative and teachable, today’s youth are generally longing to feel a sense of trust toward their parents, teachers, and mentors. That said, inexperience can turn minor misunderstandings into emotional trauma. Such trauma seriously impacts the trust factor between mentor and mentee.

As such, mentors must bear the responsibility of communicating frequently and clearly. Further, mentors should never demand trust, instead earning it from those they seek to help.

An abrupt end to mentorship or a mentor “dropping the ball” can have serious, long-term effects on the mentee. Whereas a positive mentorship experience can enhance youth development, a negative mentorship experience can impede youth development.

A challenging component to trust-building is a mentor’s responsibility to maintain confidentiality. There are many things that a mentee may share with their mentor that must be protected. However, if the mentee’s wellbeing is in danger or the secret somehow infringes upon the law, the mentor must be able to navigate the situation with care, wisdom, and compliance.

Youth Mentorship Must Focus Upon Doing No Harm.

While physical, mental, and sexual abuse between mentor and mentee is somewhat rare, it must be avoided at all costs. Michael Garrow insists that all mentors pass a background check and be able to demonstrate general mental/emotional health. One moment of abuse can ruin a young person’s life.

However, there are a number of other ways that mentors unintentionally harm their mentees. For example, most mentees come from non-white families and most mentors are white and privileged. Cultural and racial bias too often infiltrate the mentoring moment and therefore negatively impact young people involved.

Organizations that facilitate mentorship programs should actively raise awareness and accountability for the inevitable power dynamic that exists in a youth mentorship program. Failing to do so usually leads to mentors “going rogue” and contaminating the mentoring relationship.

Youth Mentorship Takes a Village.

One mentorship program should not take away from the mentee’s other mentoring moments. Parents, teachers, and others should be able to work alongside mentors to provide a wholesome experience for the mentee. The proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” is seen in the idea of mentorship. Just because a youth has one primary mentor does not mean they cannot have other mentors helping them along their path.

The best mentors care about their mentee’s culture and values. Mentors should not impose their own values (especially religious and political) upon their mentees, unless those values are well-rooted in law and ethics.

A mentee’s parents should come to appreciate the mentor as an ally. Of course, mentors should understand mandated reporting laws in the event that one or more parents are abusing the mentee.

Yet, even in this village mindset, boundaries are key. Just because mentors effectively share mentorship responsibilities with a mentee’s parents/guardians doesn’t mean that they are quick to share economic resources.

As difficult as it may be to watch a mentee’s household struggle to provide for basic needs (such as food, water, and electricity), mentors should not assume financial responsibility for the mentee and his/her family.

Michael Garrow concludes that youth mentorship programs should equip their mentors to point mentees and their families to more appropriate means of help in such circumstances.


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