Mentoring Misnomers Monday: “Only At-Risk Youth Need Mentoring”

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This post begins my exploration of what I will be calling “Mentoring Misnomers”. In other words, ill conceived notions or ideas about mentoring that plague mentoring both as a concept as well as a practice. These misnomers are harmful in that they often inform the way in which mentoring programs are organized, implemented, researched, evaluated and funded.

I’ll begin with one of the most common misnomers; “only at-risk youth need mentoring”.

Not at all true! Every successful person can name at least one caring individual who has helped them, even pushed them, on to the path of success. The idea that mentoring is reserved for youth “who need it” gives mentoring a deficit based frame. It implies that only this type of youth requires a caring and trusting relationship with an adult guide. This misnomer also implies that those who might mentor these youth need to play a “savior” role rather than a guidance or facilitator role.

While at-risk youth do in fact benefit from mentoring relationships, it is wrong to assume that “normal” or privileged youth will not benefit or that they do not require guidance or help. Since mentoring enjoys a national gaze and programs are being built and funded in an effort to provide mentors for youth, many have concentrated their efforts in urban areas filled with poor youth of color. The idea is that these youth are mostly “at-risk” and that they require the most intervention. However, their counterparts in suburban and affluent areas require the same attention and are typically harder pressed to find structured programs being built and funded in their neighborhoods. In reality both groups positively benefit from mentoring and both groups lack mentors.

According to the newly released report,  The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring, there is a mentoring gap among both at-risk youth and youth with no risk factors.

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EVERY young person requires the guidance and support of a caring adult. Be a mentor.

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