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Mentoring young people

March 9, 2017
Jodi L. Smith , MOV Parent

Many youth development organizations have been researching the developmental assets all youth need to be successful, caring, contributing members of society. Search Institute research indicates 40 developmental assets all youth need to be successful. The framework suggests that the more assets youth have, the more successful they will become. The National 4-H program research indicates that youth need four Essential Elements of Positive Youth Development that include a positive relationship with a caring adult, mastery of new skills, generosity and independence. It is a combination of all of these elements that promotes positive youth development. As parents, community leaders, teachers, and coaches, we can all play a large part in helping youth achieve the assets or essential elements needed to be successful. Belonging is a very important asset/essential element that all youth need. Belonging encompasses more than just being a part of a group.

Belonging is about being actively engaged in an environment where youth feel safe and included. In addition, it includes positive relationships with friends and caring adult mentors who want to see a child succeed. Research shows that youth need long-term relationships with other adults besides parents. Youth need to have this need met and will meet it in either positive or negative ways. Our job as parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors is to help youth meet this need in positive ways. We can encourage these relationships by providing multiple ways for youth to connect with other peers and positive adult role models through participation in youth development organizations, church youth groups, community activities, sports, and other groups that offer youth programs. Youth need involvement in youth programs for three or more hours per week. Active involvement in these groups increases a child's chance to develop positive relationships with others and with caring adult role models.

Search Institute is continuing to research developmental relationships and their impact on positive youth development. So what makes a person a caring adult or a positive adult influence on a child? A caring adult does each of the following:

Believes in the youth and makes him/her feel valued

Encourages and praises effort of every child

Expects the young person to live up to his/her potential

Helps youth learn from mistakes and failures

Pushes youth to go further and try harder

Helps youth build confidence

Defends youth when needed

Respects youth and treats them fairly

Works with youth to reach goals

Inspires youth to see possibilities for the future

Connects youth with other positive peers and role models

Adult mentors can strengthen relationships with youth by truly paying attention to them and listening when they talk. It is also important to ask youth about their future and encourage them to pursue their interests. Perhaps most importantly, adult mentors should praise hard work, but also understand and emphasize that mistakes and failure are part of the learning process. Youth development is exactly that a process of development.

Youth who have more assets or essential elements in their lives are more likely to be successful as adults.


"Developmental Assets: Preparing Young People for Success." Search Institute, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

"National Institute of Food and Agriculture." Essential Elements of 4-H | National Institute of Food and Agriculture. USDA, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Jodi Smith is an extension agent and assistant professor for the West Virginia University Extension Service.



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