Chamber of Commerce - SpaceCoast Business Best PracticeWhy YPs Make the Best Mentors 

It makes sense to think that those brought up in the era of punch cards, might not be the best mentors for teenagers who grew up learning on laptops and who never parted from their smart phones.  Therefore, it makes sense that there is a significant role the young professional can play in guiding our youth.

Being only one generation behind, it is easier for teens to see attainable goals when they look at the successes of YPs in their twenties and thirties.  And having that support could prevent the unthinkable from happening – like teen suicide.  It’s not an easy or popular topic to address, but it needs to be. It is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds.

She Saved My Life

Pam Harrell formed a nonprofit, Taylor 4 Teens, last year after her granddaughter Taylor Renae King tragically took her own life on September 26, 2010, just shy of her 15th birthday.  The teen showed no signs of depression nor could her family tell she was suffering.  So Pam’s goal is that teens would always have a place to turn.  To bring awareness to teen issues and guide teens to available resources, she started the website with resources and hotlines teens can call. “They tell me, ‘Taylor saved my life,’” she said about teens who have contemplated ending their life but who got the help they needed.

“Mentoring students is more important today than ever,” said Erika McLaren, CTE Resource Teacher, Office of Career & Technical Education and Brevard Public Schools. “It is not always easy for students to navigate through the barrage of media, school demands and societal pressures that they are confronted with on a daily basis.  Young professionals who are tuned in to current trends and social media make especially good mentors.  As mentors, young professionals are able to directly impact students by assisting them to develop a vision for their lives and actualize their goals.”

Plus there’s an added bonus.  “Students are not the only ones who benefit from being mentored by young professionals,” McLaren added.  “Mentors also benefit by feeling better about themselves for having affected a young person’s life.”

Making Connections

Laurence Hayes helps coordinate volunteers in Florida Tech’s clinical psychology graduate program.  She matches up grad students with local nonprofits to talk to teens and preteens.  A lot of their topics focus on social media – e.g. “sexting,” bullying on Facebook, how to be safe on the Internet, and what your posts can mean to your future. They also talk about substance use and abuse – straight talk about drugs and their effects; teen depression, how to recognize it in yourself or others, and local resources for help; transitioning from high school to college; and accepting differences in others, such as autism.

The grad students, Hayes said, are about 22 to 28 years old.  This is perfect to address teens.  “They are very much in touch with cultural references and the colloquial language that defines their generation,” Hayes explained.  “They can connect with us better.  They don’t equate us with a mom or dad figure trying to give them the same information.  We can be funny or sarcastic; we understand their humor.”  She added, “Our life experiences are so much closer in time.  Since things change so rapidly, it gives us experiences we can translate.”

In other words, a young professional just might be the perfect person to inspire a disadvantaged teen; to encourage a youth to try harder; or perhaps be the one to help them decide to get help – help that could save a life.

Christine Michaels is president and CEO of the Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida.