Youth mentoring programs can help build teens’ confidence, improve their mental health and connect them with opportunities to be successful. Youth mentor Suriya Khong, VP of Teen Initiatives at Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties (shown on the left), shares why every child needs a mentor, and what a good mentor-mentee relationship looks like.
Read BGCSDC's Suriya Khong's piece featured on BGCA.org
Having worked with teens for more than a decade, I’ve seen firsthand the incredible impact of mentoring. At the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties, I help young people deepen their interests in leadership and volunteering, empower them to find the words to tell their stories, and connect them to opportunities that broaden their worldviews.
I often see teens who limit themselves because of self-doubt, who struggle because of their circumstances, and who have yet to discover the different aspects of who they will become. My job as a mentor is to accept them for who they are in each moment and give them supportive, consistent space to grow on their own terms – allowing them the freedom to decide how they’d like to grow, in what direction, and how quickly they’d like to get there.
One of the things I love most about mentoring youth is when a young person realizes what they’re capable of. That’s when everything becomes possible for them.
It’s like a light comes on, and suddenly they see they’re in a much larger world than they originally thought they were in – one of my mentees (and someone I deeply admire!), Vanessa T., recently shared her personal experience about this. Once teens build their confidence and enter a growth mindset, there’s no stopping where they’ll go.
No matter the background, every kid can benefit from a positive adult mentor in their life:
- Mentorship can provide much-needed consistency.
The immediate benefit of a mentor is having a consistent person who always shows up, through victories and struggles alike. When life feels overwhelming, knowing your mentor will always be there (and is choosing to be there) can be the first step in building a trusting relationship.
- Young people are empowered to walk their own path – knowing they’ll be accepted no matter what.
At Boys & Girls Clubs, we strive to be a system of support and acceptance while providing our teens with a place they can explore. Where they feel comfortable making a mistake. Where they can come for guidance without judgment. Mentorship is about allowing youth to walk their own path, and providing a support system for their journey.
- In a positive mentoring relationship, mentors should share that they are vulnerable, imperfect beings, too.
I’m constantly making mistakes and learning from them. I share that with my mentees, so they know that I, too, am evolving alongside them. I’m older, but I don’t have all the answers and I’m not always right, even if my heart is in the right place. And I’m honest about my imperfections and shortcomings. By being fully human with my teens, they understand that growth is a lifelong journey and that uncertainty and failure are natural parts of success. Honesty encourages openness and allows for meaningful mentorships to develop.
- Mentors support and challenge teens while allowing them space to grow on their own term.
A mentor should accept a mentee for exactly who they are, and yet encourage them to seek out experiences and ideas that challenge their understandings of the world and themselves. Encouraging teens to achieve feats (big and small) that seem daunting – to seek answers, problem-solve, and make choices – and providing them with the type of silence that allows them to formulate their own thoughts, creates the space and desire for enthusiastic growth. And when they’re ready to grow, mentors help make connections to empower them to get started.
- Mentorship looks different for each teen.
Every young person is a unique being, and youth mentoring programs acknowledge (and celebrate!) these differences. A mentor takes time to know, understand and accept a young person for who they are, what they’re going through, and who they have the potential to be.
- A good youth mentor doesn’t assume their own experiences are the ultimate guide for young people.
As a mentor, it can be tempting to give advice like “this is what worked for me,” especially when I see a young person move in a different direction than I might choose. When that happens, I’ll discuss potential consequences of decisions with a mentee, but with the understanding that a young person’s choices are going to be (and should be) different from my own. Mentorship should be guidance, with freedom.
A strong mentee-mentor relationship is built on consistency, communication and – most importantly – trust. When I create an environment for teens to make mistakes, try new things and dream big, they learn that this support system is always here for them.
My teens know that I will always see them as they are and recognize the potential of who they can be.