A mentor is a friendly advisor, and mentoring a special kind of friendship. It is a supportive relationship, often between an adult and a younger person. It can involve a parent or a peer. A mentor offers support and guidance in the struggle with a problem.
Teens often find mentors naturally in the surrounding community. One may also be formally assigned through a local program. Such a relationship is based on sharing experiences, with no expectation of personal gain by the mentor. Research findings show promising evidence that mentoring may prevent kids from starting to smoke, or help them quit.
A recent review by the Risk Reduction through Mentorship Committee was one of the few reviews which looks at tobacco use as a separate high-risk behaviour. Although there is little research in this area, it all points to the same conclusion. Mentoring helps children and teens reduce tobacco use. These findings are important, as such information may allow us to better help kids at risk.
Mentors appear to help young people have more confidence. A mentor may provide the courage needed to walk away from bad influences. Kids with mentors seem more comfortable saying no to tobacco or other drugs, even when peers say yes. Mentors help kids replace bad experiences with positive ones. Overall, they can help young people feel good about themselves.
Kids are open to the idea of positive mentoring relationships. They even say it might help them quit smoking, according to a 2003 survey. This survey polled over 200 teen smokers and more than 700 non-smoking teens. Thirty-three per cent of those who smoked, and more than 85 per cent of those who did not, felt talking to a trusted adult or adolescent about ways to quit would help.
Evidence shows the answer is yes. Mentors can help kids stay smoke-free.
Two well-done studies provide some convincing results. The first study, done in 2005, randomly selected over 10,000 students in 59 schools in the United Kingdom. Half of the students participated in a peer-led stop smoking program.
In this program, respected students nominated by peers received mentoring training and information about smoking risks. They then informally encouraged other students not to smoke.
Thirty-eight per cent of all the students were experimental smokers at the beginning of the project. By the end of the project a year later, only nine per cent in the mentored group were smoking. This compared to 23 per cent in the non-mentored group. Both groups also received the usual school stop smoking program.
An American study, the Smoke-Free Kids program, involved almost 900 third graders and one parent of each, 80 per cent of whom were mothers. The parents received five printed activity guides that focused on improving communication skills with kids, while advising them against smoking and on making decisions about addictions. The guides also explained why parents who smoked were not being hypocritical in giving advice. Three years later, only 12 per cent of these children had tried smoking, compared to 19 per cent in the group that did not get the program.
Surveys also show the effectiveness of mentoring. One survey, published in 2002, showed kids with non-parental role models were twice as likely to steer clear of cigarettes as those without role models. Teens with peer role models were two and half times as likely to stay non-smokers.
A 1999 survey of nearly 100,000 American kids in grades six to 12 asked about the personal and social assets they had that might help in becoming happy, productive adults. Such assets could include mentoring. Only one per cent of the children who listed 31 or more assets smoked, compared to 45 per cent of those who listed ten or less.
Other surveys have shown that kids with a mentor have less risk of smoking or less substance use.
A small study in 2004 of 116 Dutch families found that kids were less likely to intend to smoke if parents monitored both the smoking, and the ideas about smoking, of their children and friends. It was also important that parents express strong views against smoking.
More research in this area will tell us more. Based on what we know now, the results seem clear. Mentoring makes a difference and helps kids butt out.