You often hear people say that children are the future. Of course this is true. However, the current reality is that children are dealing with so many more issues then we did 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. Of course, a forefront issue includes bullying. The numbers of teenagers across the country who have committed suicide over the last year because they were bullied are unfathomable and must be addressed, by government, by schools, by parents...but ultimately, by us as humans.
Add poverty, abuse, neglect, lack of self-esteem and low motivation in school, and it makes you wonder how children can possibly cope with the expectations placed on them by society.
Don't get me wrong. There are many youth out there who are motivated, who are loved and who are supported, and who exceed expectations that are placed on them. And that are happy. But there are many who are not.
Having one children or teenager who is facing these social issues is too much.
According to research, as well as my own personal and professional experience, the key is mentorship. Kids who have a positive role model in their lives are more likely to succeed academically and develop healthy lifestyles.
Personally, I can attest to this. I grew up with a Big Sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton throughout my teens. Despite living in a single-parent home, coping with the death of my father at a young age, and dealing with bullying and self esteem issues, having a mentor saved my life. And it stays with you into your adulthood.
For me, the impact is demonstrated in professional life. Fifteen years later, my priority is to help Canadian children and youth find their mentors to help them succeed. At the same time, I continue to seek out my own.
Mentorship does not have to be limited to wayward teenagers. Elders have important lessons to share with adults. Adults have important lessons to share with youth. And youth have important lessons to share with children. It's this cycle of sharing our own experiences that will help make a positive difference in the community.
Many researchers and educators are emphasizing the importance of prevention in the form of early childhood education. Mentorship is a significant aspect of this. The very thought of not having a person to look up to, listen and support are incomprehensible. Mentors may come and go, but the lessons you learn from your mentor(s) can last a lifetime.
Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters in Canada are imperative in this regard. Imagine if each Canadian volunteered one hour a week to be a mentor for someone. The possibility that this could have for our future is endless. And the hope brought about by volunteers is immeasurable.
Children are surrounded by teachers, parents, and other adults telling them how to behave, what to wear, who to trust. Sometimes they need someone there to just "be there." No judgements. That's what a mentor is.