This blog post originated on Esquire.com
As the “mentoring guy,” these are the questions men – friends, acquaintances, family and even the guy next to me on an airplane – often ask me about becoming a mentor. My response is pretty simple. If you show up several times in a row you might be the only man who’s ever done that for the boy you’re mentoring. And that consistent presence, our own experience and the research tells us, makes all the difference.
As Esquire readers know, through the magazine’s coverage of the state of boys and young men, the education, criminal justice and support systems in our country are increasingly failing our next generation of American men. From state to state, the number of families where children have two parents has dropped significantly. In colleges and universities, only 44 percent of undergraduates are boys and that percentage is expected to continue to trend downward. In our country, 20 percent of the people arrested for violent crimes are under the age of 18 and 83 percent of them are boys. Nearly half of black men and almost 40 percent of white men in the U.S. have been arrested by age 23.
What happens when young men have greater contact with the justice system than they do with men who can stand by them as positive mentors through thick and thin? We find ourselves with nearly three million teens and young men ages 16-24 disconnected from opportunity – they’re not in school and they’re not on a path to a successful career.
So what is the difference you can make by just showing up? Last year, we did a nationally representative survey of young people ages 18-21 about their experiences with mentors. Those who were at-risk for not graduating from high school and had mentors were 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college. Not only that, they were much more likely to participate in sports and other afterschool activities. They were much more likely to hold leadership spots in those activities. And they were much more likely to volunteer in their communities.
In their own words, the young people we talked to really brought to life the ways in which, over time, their mentors’ commitment to showing up had an impact on their lives. “My mentor came into my life and provided structure, did things with me that my parents couldn’t. He took me out to play ball, just sat and talked with me, and kept me from doing other things, like being in the streets,” said one young man. While another told us his mentor “gave [me] the skills necessary to diffuse conflicts between individuals.”
These experiences exemplify what we call the mentoring effect – the positive outcomes that come from these powerful relationships that benefit not only the two individuals involved but also our families, our communities, our country.
Yet, one out of every three young people will grow up without a mentor.
For boys, this mentoring gap is even more difficult to close. Take the state of Minnesota as a snapshot of the trend around the country. Our affiliate Mentoring Partnership in the state found that the number of female mentors was double the number of male mentors statewide. In mentoring programs in that state, boys represented 60 percent of youth on their waitlists – with nearly a third waiting more than a year to be matched with a mentor. Nationwide, in a survey on volunteerism, only 18 percent of men said their volunteer activity is mentoring.
In the October 2014 edition of Esquire, writer Andrew Chaikivsky details many of the reasons why men don’t mentor and the variety of solutions the mentoring field has devised to overcome them. But the gap persists and as a result, our boys continue to struggle. Esquire magazine, with its finger on the pulse of what drives men to act, is investing an incredible wealth of resources and influence to mobilize readers – men – to enlist in the effort to close the gap. At MENTOR, we applaud this effort and we are proud to support and help sustain it through an ongoing partnership.
I don’t think I have time. What will we do? What will we talk about? Will it really make a difference?
Esquire’s multimedia efforts provide answers to these questions and challenge you to decide if you want to read about the crisis with our boys or be part of the solution. We can and must be the men who lead the next generation of boys as they grow to be men. We can all show up.