Strengthening youth-parent relationships through mentoring

Mentored youth show improved relationships with parents.

Mentoring has been linked to a number of benefits for participating youth. One of these benefits is improved relationships between the mentored youth and the parents. Mentoring has been linked to a variety of outcomes including improved intimacy, communication and trust between youth and parents.

For successful outcomes, it is vital that the parent is comfortable with the mentoring relationship. Some parents may feel threatened by another adult in their child’s life. Mentoring programs need to partner with parents and help them understand the relationship and give them opportunities to provide input. Parents need to understand the role of a mentor. Mentors are not meant to replace the parent, and it must be made clear that they are there to be a guide and a friend rather than to take on a parental or authoritative role. Once the parent agrees to allow a mentoring relationship, a delicate balance must be found between the mentor and parent. Parents should be informed about what the mentor and mentee are doing and have the opportunity to provide input; however, it must be clear that the main relationship is that between the mentor and youth. The mentor cannot become the parent’s spy or take on the role of friend or counselor to the parent. Just as the youth and mentor need to develop trust, the mentor and parent also must have a trusting relationship.

It seems that mentoring works both by decreasing stressors for the family and by increasing youth assets and skills. Some practitioners and researchers suggest that the improvements in family relationships could be the result of reduced family tension, better communication skills or from changes in how the youth views himself. Many mentoring programs train mentors to help youth work on specific skills such as anger management, communication and service learning. In developing these skill sets, youth are more likely to feel engaged in the community and increase their sense of self-worth. It is possible that family members view the youth differently as they gain skills and that family members change some of their behaviors toward the youth, thus resulting in stronger relationships.

Not all mentoring relationships have an impact on family relationships. The longevity of the mentoring relationship has proven to be a key component in both the development of the mentoring relationship and in the resulting outcomes. It takes time for a young person to trust a mentor, and in many ways the relationship doesn’t even begin until trust is formed. Long-lasting relationships with clearly defined roles will increase the likelihood of positive youth outcomes including strengthened relationships with parents. For this reason, Mentor Michigan defines mentoring as a relationship that lasts a minimum of one year or one school year in school-based programs. Michigan 4-H Youth Mentoring offers a variety of resources and trainings to support mentoring professionals, mentors and parents.

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