You’re Never Too Young to Be a Mentor

With the fall semester of my senior year of college officially completed, my anxieties about entering the real world are at an all-time high. Even though I spend my time going to career fairs, applying to jobs, and networking, I’m still plagued by recurring nightmares about typos on my resume and being forever unemployed.

This senior year isn’t all that different from high school when I was also feeling similarly stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. AP classes, college applications, and SATs were enough to cause me to break down on a regular basis. However, what gave me a sense of peace during that time was talking to my sister about what I was going through.

Although she is only two years older, she supported me, answered my questions, and gave me valuable advice about what I should look for in a college, which classes I should take, and what I needed to do to make my transition from high school to college as seamless as possible. She helped me realize that you’re never too young to be a mentor.

Now, it’s my turn to be a helping hand, a support system, and a friend to teens who feel lost or stressed during the difficult transition period from high school to college. I’ve spent time volunteering as a freshman pre-orientation leader and high school tutor since I’ve been in college. Based on my experience, here are three simple ways to best support these teens.

1. Listen

Every week, I tutor an 11th grade high school student from the Bronx. I give her study tips and help her with her homework, but when I signed up to be a tutor, I didn’t realize how much I would also serve as a listening ear and a close friend. A few weeks into these tutoring sessions, she began to open up to me about her frustrations with teachers, wavering friendships, difficult school situations, and anxieties about how to navigate her future. Although I couldn’t relate to many of her situations, as her high school experience was very different than mine, she told me she was grateful to have me there to talk to each week. Now, I realize how much simply listening to someone can provide them with a healthy dose of comfort and support.

2. Be positive

While I was leading the service-based pre-orientation for freshmen students at the start of the year, many students approached me asking questions about roommates, classes, and activities on campus. While my freshman year had its ups and downs, it’s the good memories that continue to stick out in my mind. I thought back to the late-night laughs with my freshmen roommates and how we would spend almost every weekend exploring our new home in New York City. I also thought about the theater class that I loved where I had the opportunity to see incredible plays, one of which was directed by my professor. Of course, there were still difficult exams and days when I missed home, but there will be high and low moments of every person’s unique college experience. By pointing out the positives, I’m able to give a sense of peace, comfort, and hope to the worried teens and assure them they will have fantastic experiences in the years to come.

3. Be hospitable

My first month of college felt like the longest month of my life. It was exhausting meeting so many new people, all while adjusting to my new bed, new classes, and new home. I craved a feeling of familiarity amid it all. This year, I had an excellent group of freshmen in my pre-orientation group, and I kept thinking about what they must have been feeling at the end of our time together. Reflecting on my own feelings freshman year, I decided to host the group in my apartment, which is a little more homey than the dorm rooms where they live. I set out snacks, made brownies, and hugged them as they came in to hang out. We all had a great time catching up, and I had the chance to provide a place of comfort I wish I had during my first few weeks of college.

While I don’t have an education degree or formal teaching experience, I’ve realized that I can use my own life experiences to mentor teens just a few years younger than me. I’ve learned a lot from my mentees, and I’ve also had the chance to use my experiences to support them on their individual journeys. I encourage you to use your knowledge as a 20-something to volunteer at a local high school, tutoring center, or Boys and Girls Club near you, become a Big Brother or Big Sister, or simply support the teens you know. You’re never too young to make a difference in a teen’s life, and you might just find out that they can make a difference in your life too.