As the parent of a teenager, you might sometimes feel as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Between your own obligations and the task of parenting your teen through the transition toward adulthood, life can get overwhelming. The good news is that you are not the only adult in your teen’s life who can help him or her grow and develop as a person. There are ways that a youth mentor, such as a teacher, coach, therapist, or extended family member, can make a difference in your teen’s life. We’ve put together a list of four ways that a youth mentor can positively influence a teen’s life.
1. A Youth Mentor Can Provide Passion and Inspiration
Whether you like it or not, teenagers are in the developmental phase of pulling away from their parents. You might have a wonderful life that you’ve worked hard for, but your teen might not find it inspirational. Another adult in the community who has done something similar, however, might be a completely different story. It can be frustrating to hear your adolescent’s admiration of a friend’s parent, but try not to take it personally.
Instead, make it a point to encourage your teen to interact with other adults who are successful and who have challenging and interesting passions and careers. Keep in mind that what your teen finds awe-inspiring and interesting might be very different from what you are passionate about. Do your best to encourage his or her interests, and be on the lookout for youth mentors who can help nurture those passions, especially if you don’t know enough about it to nurture them yourself.
2. A Youth Mentor Can Share Their Values
It’s likely that your teen is very well-acquainted with your values. They probably know who you voted for, how you feel about controversial issues, and how you feel about people who have the opposite views. While this is good, it’s also important that your teen begin to develop his or her own views and value system. It can be hard for parents to let go and let their teens have their own ideas, but it’s essential for your adolescent to start off adulthood with a firm grasp on what is right to him or her.
Don’t despair if your teenager is befriending adults who have different political or ideological views. Of course, you will want to step in if the person’s views and behaviors are harmful or illegal. For example, it’s okay if a youth mentor believes that recreational marijuana should be legal, even if you disagree, but they should not be supplying your underage child with it or encouraging them to partake while they are still a minor.
3. Mentors Can Encourage Community Involvement
Whether it’s a coach, a member of your church, or your teen’s supervisor at work, an adult outside of your immediate family can model good community involvement. Chances are good that you also volunteer and participate in the community, but it could be that your teen is not particularly interested in the role you have taken on. It’s important for young people to understand that there are various opportunities for community involvement. Other adults might be involved in activities that you have no interest in, but maybe your teen does.
Teens who volunteer and feel that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves might be more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol, and it can keep them healthier in general. Getting out and involved can also help teens who have social anxiety or who have had trouble making friends in school or with their peers. It can also open up career opportunities. Encourage relationships between your teenager and members of the community who participate in healthy activities.
4. Mentors Can Sometimes See Problems Before You Do
Since you are close to your teen and see him or her on a daily basis, it can be difficult to see the subtle changes that might accompany mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or even suicidal tendencies. Your teen also might not open up to you easily, particularly if communication has been strained. Someone outside of your family might catch these subtle early signs and can make a difference by talking to you about their concerns.
If you are having some concerns about your teen, feel free to approach a guidance counselor or coach to see if they have noticed anything out of the ordinary. These adults might also have suggestions that you haven’t thought of when it comes to communicating better with your teen. If your teen has any mental health issues and you’d like to share, consider carefully whether it would help the other adult to know. In many cases, a guidance counselor or trusted teacher would appreciate the information; an employer or older friend should not be told unless by the teen him- or herself.
Help Your Teen Stay Safe When They’re With Other Adults
It’s natural that you might feel a bit apprehensive about your teenager spending time with adults whom you’re unfamiliar with. Particularly if your teen is young, it’s important that you get to know the people he or she will be with. Joining groups, such as an extracurricular sport or a youth group, will usually put your teen in the company of people who have been background-checked. Talk to your teen about trusting their gut instincts and about not spending time alone with someone who they do not know well.
Also, be sure to meet the youth mentor who will be spending time with your teen. Try to have a dialogue with them. This will be easy if it’s a teacher or a family friend, but might be more difficult if it’s someone like a work supervisor. You will want to make them aware that you’re an involved parent without “helicoptering” or being too involved. It can hard to find a balance, but do your best to stay aware of what’s going on.
It can be hard to trust others with your teen and equally hard to see your teenager go to another adult for support. Just keep in mind that this is an important step as your child grows up and figures out what kind of person he or she wants to be.