<h1 class='title'>How mentors can help prevent risky behaviors</h1>

How mentors can help prevent risky behaviors

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Looking back to your childhood, you might remember an adult who helped keep you in line and out of trouble. In celebration of National Mentoring Month, why not help another child reap the benefits of mentorship?

I know the impact of a positive adult influence in a child’s life. Since 2010, I’ve mentored a young girl who has grown up in very difficult circumstances. We get together a couple of times a month to spend quality time. In those years, I’ve watched her grades improve and her horizons expand. I know our relationship, at least in small part, has something to do with that.

There are so many challenges kids face in today’s modern world, from bullying to academics to sexual pressures to substance abuse. It would be difficult to navigate for anyone. Because teens lack life experience, they often make decisions that leave adults shaking their heads in exasperation.

There’s a reason why teen behavior is so baffling, and it has to do with their brain composition. The last part of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex, otherwise known as the “command center” of the brain. It controls a ton of important functions, including mood, behavior and sleep.

It also helps a person determine right from wrong and think about the consequences of their actions. A young person’s prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until their early to mid 20s. Explains a lot, huh?

As a mentor, you can help youth make better decisions just by giving a few hours of your time each month. Go out for a run, play basketball, cook a healthy meal or work on homework together. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. What’s important is that you’re together.

When you’re talking, remember this saying: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” As adults, our natural inclination is to tell kids exactly what to do and how to do it. We want to help them avoid the mistakes we made. Your intentions may be good, but more often than not, it backfires.

Sometimes, you have to keep your mouth shut, as hard as it may be. Your role is to influence, not dictate. Kids have to reach their own decisions, even if that means they will experience a negative outcome.

Mistakes are a natural part of life and help us learn. When kids make bad choices (as they inevitably will), it’s your job to hold them accountable without shame or judgment.

Many kids in our community lack a stable adult influence. This month, take the time to impact the life of a child. You’ll be so glad you did. You don’t need special skills or a dazzling resume. Just a heart for helping kids.

Find out how you can impact at-risk teens at Richard Yoakley School on our Alternative School Outreach page.