I first came across mentoring as a ten year old refugee at a summer camp in the U.S. when a councilor took pity on me because I could hardly speak English and seemed totally lost. This young blonde mentor was to guide me through all four weeks of what would otherwise have been sheer hell. Ten years later, in the summer of my sophomore year at Harvard, I myself took to guiding teenagers in a New England summer camp and found the mentoring most rewarding.
Today I am haunted by the knowledge that this global economic crisis is hitting the younger generation particularly hard.1 Young adults around the world between the ages of 16-26 are finding it hard to find any employment while youths between 10 and 18 are struggling with difficulty to find their bearings. There are no statistics for the 10-16 year olds in terms of what they need, but the Mayor of Los Angeles has said that 600,000 youngsters in that city alone are in dire need of guidance. I believe that in terms of the social wellbeing of any society such conditions are not acceptable. In London, which has also been affected by youth-fuelled riots, Mayor Boris Johnson, a strong supporter of mentoring programs in the inner city, said on January 8th: “For many, mentoring can have a dramatic and positive effect, helping teenagers turn their backs on the lure of gangs or criminality.”
Numerous forms of mentoring exist for business, academia, health and prison reform. My proposal is to turn mentoring for the young people into a job opportunity for the slightly older ones.2 Mentoring, coaching, guidance and teaching jobs which desperately need to be created for those under 25 are currently being lost . My proposal is to create millions of entirely new jobs for those in need. As mentoring is a form of personal counseling, training and qualifications are essential.3
Our young people in the age group from 12 to 18 are bewildered by the worlds opening up before them, are in need of guidance and one-to-one contact. Parents are often too busy or absent and frequently youthful rebellion makes the new generation look elsewhere. Harassed teachers are often unavailable for such personalized attention. The peer group of these youngsters is unhelpful because they are themselves exploring and insecure with a sense of being isolated and stressed. They feel they don’t know where to turn for questions regarding their mood swings, intimacy, puberty, sex and drugs. Their issues range from the lack of part-time jobs to the future of our environment.
At the same time, those in the northern hemisphere nations finishing college or university or even high school have a different set of challenges facing them, mostly surrounding work and finding both meaning and direction. In an era when education itself is facing all kinds of cuts and challenges, I believe that a vast program of Enhancement through Mentoring would be a direct way of catering to the needs of both groups described above as well as to the needs of a society which is desperately searching for new ways to create meaningful employment.
Mentoring already plays a major role in the voluntary sectors of the U.S. and the UK. Look at the internet and there are hundreds of different mentoring groups scattered around our countries catering to all ages.4 Because by its very definition its “remit’ is so wide-ranging, mentoring has not received official recognition. This proposal suggests that to alter the status of mentoring from a voluntary into a state approved one is essential.
In my innovative approach, our young, starting at the age of about 10, would be given mentors to help them in the non-cognitive aspects of life.5 Yet few of these vital aspects are seldom, if ever, covered in school for so many youngsters faced with the challenges of belonging and identity. All children, even at the pre-adolescent stage, greatly need and seldom receive much guidance and advice from an older person. 6 They often are in search of role models.
Mentoring could be done by all those who have finished high-school (for the younger ones) or who have finished college (to help guide teenagers.) Mentors also could identify those youngsters with special scientific skills as well as those with creative ability and imagination.
Each “mentor” could be paid for this assistance on a commensurate basis including transport and hours spent mentoring. For example those mentoring 6 students for four hours at $10 (£7) per hour could earn $240 (£160) per week. Those mentoring 12 students could earn more. Even a modest program could lead to several million “mentors” being employed and sponsored by the state .
Those kids entering their second decade would see rapid improvements in their self-confidence, determination, self-control, and resilience. They would experience delayed gratification and ways to accept or overcome disappointment and failure. They would increase their attention spans and planning skills.. All too many children in the 21st Century are not getting support in crucial areas like character building.7 The time is truly ripe for a breakthrough in providing such a fundamentally essential program.
All of us must begin to recognize that in the age of the Internet with its built-in remoteness from real human contact, mentoring must gradually become an integral part of the educational systems as they have developed and are now being revolutionized. Al Gore has pointed out in his brilliantly insightful new book, The Future, “the resulting explosion of thought and communication has stimulated the emergence of a new way of thinking about the legacy of the past and the possibilities of he future.”8
The personal, one-to-one relationships in mentoring are often challenging. One recent mentor at an historic private school in England explained how some of the older boys in this establishment were upset that the new guidance being provided to the first year entrants was contrary to the historic traditions of “fagging.”(as this hazing is called.) One senior protested that, “I went through it all so why should it stop now, when it’s my turn?”
I can hear voices of Tea-Party ilk yelling, “Mentoring? Yet another instance of state intervention when we need less” and “Where’s the money for this coming from?” Paying for new endeavors is a subject which I shall deal with in blogs to come. The problems immediately at hand are to recognize the human and educational challenges faced by young people. A launch of such a program would offer vast new opportunities for coming generations. In discussions I have had on his subject it has even been suggested that national Mentor “drafts” could be considered as an approach.
Mentoring of the young has been around since the days of the ancient Greeks, but it has generally been a voluntary activity and not a community or state funded one. My hope is that this blog will help to change the public attitude. Much is being written about mentoring but very little is being done to assist those most in need: the younger generation.
Enhancement through Youth Mentoring thus represents a bold and challenging proposal to help both the young and those out of work. To succeed it will take massive public support and this can come in part through your potentially viral contacts on the Internet.
5 This would include such specific aspects as: curiosity, memory, expression, persistence, competition, cooperation, efficiency, friendship, patience, endurance, failure and success, concentration, imagination ,desire, denial, inhibitions, frustration, efficiency, priorities, accepting differences, risk, respect, self-fulfillment, self-expression, harmony, commitment, sacrifice and excellence.
7 See: How Children Succeed, Paul Tough, (2012)
8 Al Gore, The Future, (2013) p. 51