Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of Free The Children and Me to We, a social enterprise. They are authors of "The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care And Contribute," with journalist Shelley Page.
Picture Luke Skywalker without Yoda, the Karate Kid without Mr. Miyagi, or Dora without Map. They'd be lost children -- unable to work a lightsaber, do a butterfly kick, or explore.
Every kid needs a mentor.
From the first time your child refuses a parental hug on the playground, or insists that the giant "Go Rosie! We love you!" banner stay home from the soccer pitch, it’s clear that you won’t always be the only source of self-esteem and guidance in their life.
In a world of fickle friendships and overwhelming need to fit in, it's a rapidly approaching inevitability that young people seek reassurance beyond their ever-supportive folks. That’s why a trusted, caring older role model -- or ideally, several -- is recognized as a key factor in developing confidence, positive social values and resilience as young people navigate the social, emotional and other challenges of adolescence.
A study on the impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters found that when a young person has a mentor, he or she will be 80 per cent more likely to finish high school, 46 per cent less likely to use drugs, 27 per cent less likely to use alcohol and 52 per cent less likely to skip school. Having a mentor is also linked to improved relationships with family and friends, and improved Jedi skills for saving the universe from the Dark Side.
We've personally been lucky to have some pretty incredible mentors, whose lessons have shaped who we are today. For Marc, it was Greg Rogers, his high-school teacher and rugby coach, who challenged the school's toughest jocks to befriend and look after incoming freshmen. For Craig, it was Alam Rahman, his travel companion on that first trip to South Asia, who insisted on living off three dollars a day during those five weeks, and engaging in deep conversations about consumerism, happiness, wealth and poverty.
But kids don't need to travel thousands of kilometres to find a mentor. In fact, the search should start in your own community. They say it takes a village to raise a child -- so create one! Here are some places to start:
1. THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD -- Listen to TV's Mr. Rogers and introduce your kids to respected adults in your community: the firefighter, the nurse, the scientist, the mayor, the small business owner or the elderly couple next door. The more adults your kids know by name, the more they'll understand the world and the diversity of people within it.
2. GET COOPERATIVE -- If you're looking to move, consider co-operative housing for a ready-made community where members interact, collectively care for the property, and look out for each other. Co-ops frequently offer a whole cast of adults who will get to know and nurture your kids, be stable figures in their lives, and maybe even teach them how to garden!
3. GRADE 'A' BABYSITTING -- Choose a babysitter who exhibits positive attributes you'd like to rub off on your kids. As they grow older, they’ll have a friend and ally who can provide advice from a perspective in between their peers and their parents -- especially useful for eldest children. Same goes for tutors.
4. PARENT-TEACHER ASSOCIATION -- Without being overbearing, get to know your kids' teachers. They impart more than just knowledge in the classroom, from social skills and language, to values and worldviews.
5. GO EXTRA-CURRICULAR -- Teachers are often overworked in the classroom, but quality one-on-one mentoring is possible for those who coach or lead extra-curricular groups. Encourage your kids to get involved!
6. SIGN ME UP -- Being involved in an activity they're good at is another effective way to develop resilience among kids and adolescents. It doesn't have to be sports -- the key is enjoying it, and the key to enjoying it is often having a positive, caring adult in the lead.
7. PUT ME IN COACH... SERIOUSLY -- You can't always choose your kids' coaches, but you should try: kids absorb sportsmanship, teamwork and other social skills from their coaches and teammates. Does your coach continually yell at the ref and his players, or does he or she rightly stress enjoyment of the game, teamwork and skills improvement over winning at all costs?
8. ALWAYS A REASON TO PARTY -- Use birthdays and other occasions to gather the important people in your kids' lives -- peers and adults. Your kids will know how many people care enough to come out and celebrate them, and the members of your kids' community will interact and strengthen the fabric of the "village."
9. A WORD OF THANKS -- Take a moment every so often to thank the key adults in your kids' lives for the difference they are making. A little appreciation and affirmation are paid forward many times more.