Are mentors overhyped? It takes more than one adult to aid a kid at risk – Education

Are mentors overhyped? It takes more than one adult to aid a kid at risk – Education – Brief Article

Dana Frankoff

Mentoring programs pair children from single-family or disadvantaged homes with adult volunteers and have soared in popularity in America, claiming to slash rates of substance abuse and truancy among participating youths. But can a few hours a week with a single adult help a troubled teen?

Don’t count on it, says David DuBois, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri at Columbia and a member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, among the most prominent of the nation’s 1,700 mentoring programs.

DuBois reviewed 55 studies about the effectiveness of such programs and concludes that they may be no more than “a quick fix for kids.”

Writing in the American Journal of Community Psychology, DuBois argues that well-run mentoring programs result in only a “small benefit” for the average child, and poorly designed programs that do not adequately train or screen mentors can be harmful, especially for children who have experienced neglect or abuse. These at-risk youths need more counseling than an untrained volunteer can typically provide. Such children are often hypersensitive to their mentor’s actions and may feel abandoned with little or no justification, a situation DuBois has encountered with his own “little brother.”

Studies indicate that neither frequent nor prolonged contact with a mentor significantly improves the chances that youths will benefit from the mentoring experience. And even a close bond between child and mentor “is only one piece of a complex puzzle,” according to DuBois. “It’s not realistic to think that a mentoring program can support all of a child’s needs, especially if that child is vulnerable to begin with.”

DuBois attributes this to the fact that children need several adults in their lives, either family members or members of guidance programs. “Only collective support makes mentoring possible,” says DuBois.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group