A robust network of community members, relatives, neighbors, faith-based connections and family friends can guide a young person’s journey to productive adulthood. Unfortunately, research demonstrates that many young people lack these critical supports, leaving them with inadequate resources to navigate a successful transition to adulthood and putting their path to social and economic security at risk. Connecting young people to a quality mentoring program that matches them with a consistent and caring adult is a way to reverse this trend and drive positive outcomes for our nation’s young people.
What do young people think about mentoring? This month, MENTOR will release results from the first-ever nationally representative survey of youth ages 18 to 21 about mentoring. This research seeks to determine how young people’s mentoring needs are – or are not – being met. The study, conducted by Civic Enterprises and Hart Research with support from AT&T, will provide young adults’ insights on three areas that emerged from the survey results: mentoring’s Connection to aspirations and outcomes, the value of mentors, and the availability of mentors. Building on a rich body of research and informed by discussions with key leaders in business, philanthropy, government and education, this report also provides recommendations for how schools, communities, states and the nation can advance quality mentoring for youth today.
The report’s findings are underscored by an intersecting body of research that speaks to the perils of the isolation young people face today, as well as the role of social connection — relationships — as a central part of a prosperous life. For example, neuroscience shows that human connection is the very essence of people’s ability to thrive. At the same time, social science research shows decreasing social capital and increasing isolation in our communities.
Such isolation is the stark reality for millions of children whose parents have to work multiple jobs, who go to overwhelmed schools and who live in communities where adults are under enormous stress. They will tell you that if they aren’t a star at something or gaining attention for causing trouble, they often go the entire day without one-on-one time with an adult – with consequences to them, their communities and society.
Youth-development practitioners can open the door of opportunity for social-emotional growth and the development of values, skills and beliefs that promote a child’s healthy transition into adulthood through mentoring. Research tells us that when mentoring is done well – with standards for screening, matching, training and ongoing support – it positively impacts a range of outcomes, including social connection and emotional intelligence.
While the mentoring field has experienced tremendous growth, and youth-serving organizations are now integrating mentoring as a key strategy, mentoring is still too often left to chance. In our increasingly isolating world, where the odds are frequently stacked against young people, mentoring should be a widely implemented prevention and intervention tool.
We must find ways to systemically connect young people to quality mentoring programs and help them harness this powerful asset in their lives. In doing so, we attend to the essence of our human nature and our social contract: that we fail in isolation and thrive in connection.
David Shapiro is President and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, advancing the vision of fully integrating quality mentoring into the fabric of positive youth development.