The benefits of natural mentors in the life of adolescents and teens has been demonstrated repeatedly in research and in the field. Natural mentors are those – neighbors, teachers, relatives, coaches, etc., who form organic, long-lasting relationships with a young person.
Where do we find these people who will provide guidance to our children? After all, we live in a world where we establish “friend” relationships with the push of a button but without ever meeting or having a conversation.
Let’s establish some criteria for a natural mentor:
- The teen must enjoy spending time with them. They do things together, not because parents arrange it but just because it’s fun.
- The mentor provides emotional support that buoys the spirits of the teen. This support usually involves non-judgmental listening, validation, emotional support and gentle guidance.
- The mentor has some ability to offer concrete assistance – new skills, opportunities connection to resources. Think of a coach who instills sports and life lessons or a boss who can teach about the business.
Now that we know what natural mentors look like, let’s determine how to identify them. Mentors are often people who are already part of the family’s life; in fact, they might be family themselves. Besides parents, no adults have more of a personal interest in the life of a teen than grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other extended family. Any extended family member who forms a bond with a teen can serve as an awesome role model and supporter.
Young adult siblings have the unique combination of greater wisdom and perceived coolness to earn the respect of teens. Older siblings are often stung by their younger sibling’s problems and care deeply about preventing relapse. If an older sibling might play a positive role in post-treatment recovery, they should be encouraged to get involved.
Teens, even more than most people, are highly social animals. Separating them from their pack can be devastating, even if necessary because the old gang is a destructive force in their life. Consequently, it’s critical to encourage re-integration of peers who can be a positive influence.
Other adults who share an interest, employment or recreational activities with a teen can serve as a mentor. Parents should facilitate their children’s relationships with any adult whose good qualities reflect the values they believe are important and positive for their teen. Because they may enter a teen’s life without the emotional baggage of family, or be in a position to scold or punish, they are often seen as a safe haven whose lessons a teen may be inclined to take seriously.
Research shows that more mentors are better, as long as they take a personal interest in the life of their mentee. Preparing to re-establish these people in the life of the teen before the transition home begins offers the best chance at permanent recovery.