Editor’s Note: Once a month, Equality in Sight will focus on girls and youth. Next month’s topic is “Will the digital age enable women to be influential opinion-makers?”
Social change often begins with youth. If you want to change the way citizens of the future view themselves and each other, you begin with the lessons they receive in their formative years. The Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) are focused on helping girls develop their full individual potential; relate to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect; develop values to guide their actions and provide the foundation for sound decision-making; and contribute to the improvement of society through their abilities, leadership skills, and cooperation with others.
Girls and youth often have a strong desire to take part in social change efforts and care about issues like diversity, tolerance and the environment. As noted in a report from the Girls Scouts Research Institute (GSRI), titled Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today (2009), girls say that the most important reason for helping people in their communities is that it makes them feel good personally. This research also notes that today’s youth exhibit a strong sense of community responsibility and plan to be more engaged than youth were 20 years ago.
Despite the desire to actively participate in the community, some girls are hesitant to move into a leadership role. In Change it Up! What Girls Say About Leadership (2008), GSRI reported that “the greatest single barrier to leadership reported by girls is self-perception — a lack of self-confidence in their own skills and competencies.” Too often, girls would like to make a difference in the world, but simply don’t know where to start or feel their environment prohibits them from stepping into a leadership role. Mentors have the task of showing girls the opportunities before them and support girls through advocacy channels that they may not have access to without an adult liaison.
Research has shown that the relationships youth develop with adults have a strong impact on their personal development. The decisions they make in their lives can be heavily influenced by what they feel is acceptable to the adults who mean the most to them. Building a healthy relationship with an adult is a gateway to helping a young person make positive life decisions. Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today emphasizes the impact trustworthy adult figures can have on the lives of youth. Whether they come from parents, extended family members, or unrelated mentors, guidance from and connection to adults is important for youth.
Mentor-mentee relationships provide benefits and insights for everyone involved. Mentees receive insights, advice and perspectives on life from people with more experience. In the best relationships, mentees also receive a support system outside their pre-existing circumstances. They have someone to turn to when things get tough in their lives, and they need a different perspective and different comfort.
Mentors also benefit in significant ways. They receive a chance to pass on their knowledge of the world to someone else and feel good about impacting someone else’s life in a positive and meaningful way. They may sometimes even learn things they didn’t know about the world from their mentee; learning is not a one-way street.
Building these types of relationships between youth and adults is an important objective for GSUSA and active participation in mentor groups becomes a major avenue by which women can involve their philanthropic might to generate social change. What are some ways in which we can initiate and sustain these types of programs? Share your ideas and comments below.
Read more about the research GSRI is working on: http://www.girlscouts.org/research/.