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The Value of Mentoring

The Value of Mentoring: Fostering Character Growth through Nurturing Relationships

That relationships matter has been referred to as “a statement so obvious and foundational to our understanding of the human condition it hardly seems worth making.”[1] Personal, meaningful connections with other people are a core part of flourishing in life and have a particularly key role in fostering holistic personal and character growth among children and young people.

Nurturing relationships with adults can shape all aspects of healthy youth development. Children need to grow up loved, safe and respected to be able to unlock their potential, be resilient, be creative, and engage positively with the world around them. They need adults who care for them and provide a safe space by listening to them and respecting them. This can be provided by parents and carers, natural mentors encountered in daily life, or formal mentors. Significant amounts of research underscore the role that such nurturing relationships have in fostering connection, confidence, competence, character, and caring (the ‘5Cs’) in children.

  • Mentors expand children’s social networks. They offer children a listening ear, giving them a voice and cultivating a sense of belonging. As a mentoring relationship grows and trust develops, young people can develop a more positive outlook on life and themselves. Seeing another person care and give their attention can communicate that they have worth and are important. As a mentor gets to know their mentee, they can help their mentee understand themselves, and so further develop their confidence and their sense of identity and purpose.
  • Mentors engage in explicit teaching and instruction, introducing new topics, knowledge, and skills to their mentee. A mentor is a particularly effective teacher because a personal touch can help bring to life topics that may otherwise seem irrelevant, abstract, or distant. As they learn to understand what is important to their mentee, they can tailor any teaching to the specific interests and needs of their mentee, ensuring the mentee’s understanding of the topics. As a mentor and mentee spend time together, the mentor becomes a role model for their mentee and can demonstrate and instil values, curiosity, and a desire for growth.

As they continue to develop trust which results in the mentee sharing aspects of their life with their mentor, the mentor can become a guide for the various immediate real-life situations and problems the mentee faces in everyday life. These discussions can offer the mentee not only knowledge, but wisdom, as they learn to navigate the complexities of ethical dilemmas. As they continue meeting, mentors can nurture their mentee’s character strengths and virtues through helping apply these in practice. This can happen through joint social action efforts as well as through demonstrating an ongoing commitment to the practical applications of the virtues and holding both themselves and their mentees accountable to these applications.

In a world fraught with challenges and uncertainties, the presence of a mentor can make all the difference to a young person. Let us look for ways to increase this presence in the lives of our young people, recognising the profound impact of mentoring on all aspects of personal, emotional, social, character and moral development. For through these nurturing relationships, the seeds of a listening ear and steady hand can blossom into the fruits of lifelong character growth.

[1] Cavell, T. A., Spencer, R., & McQuillin, S. D. (2021). Back to the future: Mentoring as means and end in promoting child mental health. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 50(2), 281-299.

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