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Teen Mentoring: the power of a positive role model

Discover the difference a mentor can make and how you can become one.

Mentor and young boy on basketball court high-fiving each other

When it comes to mentoring, the numbers prove its impact. At-risk young adults with an active mentor are:

  • 55% more likely to enroll in college
  • 78% more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities
  • 130% more likely to hold leadership positions in extracurricular activities
  • 52% less likely to skip a day of school
  • 46% less likely to start using illegal drugs

Why does this specific teen outreach make such a quantifiable difference? "Having a positive role model opens the door of ‘I have choices,'" says Kristen Gruntorad-Peterson, a mentor to two teenage sisters and former volunteer coordinator with Mentor Iowa. Many teens in mentoring programs come from broken families with histories of trauma and educational challenges — and they don't realize their stories can be different until a mentor shows them.

"You're not there to fix the situation, but to give them a different outlook on life," Gruntorad-Peterson adds. Her mentees include immigrant siblings whose refugee mom simply doesn't understand her daughters' unique U.S. experiences. Gruntorad-Peterson has helped the oldest navigate driver's license tests, job applications, college prep, and soon, she'll be a first-generation college student.

Yet for all the benefits mentoring provides, one in three young people will reach age 19 without ever having that positive role model. That's 16 million youth, of which 9 million are considered at-risk. Teens, especially, often get left behind because many mentors "want the cute little kids," says Gruntorad-Peterson. "And while it's important to be present at every stage, teens are at the cusp of being more than they've ever been used to. They need a mentor who can help usher them into adulthood, rather than simply being there as an activity-based partner."

That's where you and your willingness to give back may come in. If you have a genuine interest in and respect for young people, good listening skills, empathy, the ability to see solutions and opportunities, and flexibility, you have what it takes to be a good mentor, according to the National Mentoring Partnership.

"You have the time. You always have the time," says Gruntorad-Peterson. "In the 10 years I've been a mentor, I got married, went to grad school, moved twice, and had two kids. I never felt like I didn't have time for them. The rewards are so great, it's worth the effort."

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