For that past dozen years, each January has been national mentor month. A campaign started in 2002 and endorsed by Presidents Bush and Obama, National Mentoring Month is dedicated to promoting awareness of the value of youth mentoring. Mentors share their stories in their community and via social media. Youth and adults are encouraged to thank their own mentors. And everyone is encouraged to volunteer and play an important role in a child’s life.
We as parents want to be able to provide so much for our children — too much to boil down into one sentence. However, if we can be honest, we know that as parents we invariably will screw up and make some mistakes. I think we can at least agree on the “low” end of the standard: We simply want to be there for our children.
I’m very aware that parents so not really “raise children” but also shape the kind of adults they are going to be. If we parents provide our children with a comfortable environment and are able to simply be present when they need us to be, that’s a job well done. Yet the realities of providing that comfortable life can get in the way of that simple, basic parental responsibility.
This is the beauty of Mentor Month and of the concept in general. Youth mentors are not parent substitutes, but they are adults whom your children will come to trust. They may spend time one-on-one with youth or simply facilitate a group activity, becoming like a coach and helping children build lasting friendships.
My daughter is 12 years old and lives far away from me. She’s recently begun skipping designated weekends, sometimes for a sleepover or sometimes for a a school dance. I am very thankful to live in a world where technology can make that distance less substantial through text messaging, video calls, and email.
While society gets more connected online, however, we are becoming less connected in our communities. My mother knew all of her neighbors’ names as well as much about their lives when she was growing up. Today, we barely know the people who live across the street from us. Youth mentors help instill that lost sense of community. Mentors don’t choose children because they are “special” but for just the opposite reason. A youth mentor will most likely work with any child, based solely on the criterion that that child needs someone.
What can you do in your neighborhood to raise awareness about National Mentor Month?