Noun: A wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
January is national mentor month which is used as an opportunity to not only thank mentors, but to promote youth mentoring by encouraging adults to become more active in the lives of our youths. A mentor’s role is usually defined by spending quality time with mentees and engaging them in positive character building activities.
Mentors play an important role in our society, but I’m afraid that the role of mentors in some children’s lives may be eclipsing that of parents. Please do not take this message the wrong way. What I am saying is that not too long ago, what is now being asked of strangers was once performed by parents.
Parents have always been and will always be their child’s first and best teacher– if they are prepared. Unfortunately, many children are born to parents who are neither prepared nor equipped to parent, and by pairing such children with a mentor will not make the problem go away which is why more is needed than substituting the role of parents with a mentor.
A parent’s inability to serve as the wise and trusted teacher, counselor and provider to their children often results from a number of factors with the main factors being: teen pregnancies, poverty, illiteracy, mental illnesses, and drug addictions. These challenges are not only barriers to a parent’s ability to be parents, but also interfere with the child’s growth, and development.
Providing the children who come from dysfunctional homes a mentor without also providing support to correct the dysfunction in the home or address the parent’s limitations which give rise to the need for a mentor, is like throwing an ice cubes on a raging fire– It may make you feel good to be doing something, but it will have no long term impact on the problem.
Any positive impact that a mentor may have on a mentee’s growth and development through daily, weekly or monthly activities will more than likely be off- set by the lack of resources in the home to further support the child’s growth and development.
Furthermore, when we place mentors in a child’s life, we run the risk of undermining the parent’s authority and respect as the child may learn to look to the mentor rather than the parent. As studies have shown children tend to look up to those who fulfill their needs as evident by the proliferation of gang membership among inner city youths.
All of this does not mean that we do away with mentors, what this means is that as a society we re-think our use of mentors and the role they play in a child’s life. Mentors can play even a greater role in society if we re-define their mission and purpose by integrating their duties with that of parents.
A mentor’s role should be that of helping parents to achieve the best outcome for the child and when necessary helping to empower parents to carry out their duties. Furthermore, Mentor agencies and organizations can be effective tools in helping to empower parents by helping to advocate for resources to help address and eliminate the socio-economic conditions and that prevent parents from parenting such as employment, education, housing, and mental health care.
In other words, to have the greatest impact and make the biggest difference in the life of a child, mentors may need to first mentor parents by helping them overcome barriers that interfere with parenting. After all, the definition of the mentor is trusted counselor and teacher, and we all know that empowered parents make the best teachers.