A recent poll done by Canada-wide non-profit Jack.Org, an organization empowering young people to take action in their communities and revolutionize mental health, found that over half of students returning to school are feeling disconnected and unsupported by their schools. This is not surprising, given the worry families feel as rules and regulations continue to change across Calgary’s schools, adding an element of uncertainty as our community tries to navigate the unexpected.
This is extremely concerning given the connection between mental health and academic performance. In addition, the uncertainty youth feel has a deeper impact on our communities, taxing the teachers, friends and parents aiming to provide security for youth in these challenging times. To begin combatting the adverse ripple effect isolation has created in our youth, we need to prioritize programming that aims to empower our future generations and their loved ones through accessible resources.
Mental health is a critical part of development, controlling the process by which young people understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Children and youth facing adversity need support to develop these competencies. Right now, all youth in our communities returning to school are facing a form of adversity, dealing with a global health pandemic amidst navigating some of the most confusing, challenging years of their lives. In addition, many communities are facing adversities that put them at risk of not reaching their full potential.
Gurpreet Lail, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area, says one-on-one mentoring is essential to help youth navigate the stresses of adversity today.
Research supports that encouraging one-on-one mentor relationships can lead to life-altering changes for young people. Mentors can form meaningful relationships with their mentees that develop their social-emotional learning and executive functioning skills. These critical developmental relationships help young people to become resilient and give them the confidence to achieve more.
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
The five domains, as established by CASEL, are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
An important step to combatting stress is providing mentorship that encourages youth to develop resiliency, ensuring they are able to continue to overcome obstacles and develop skills throughout their lifetime. Programming that provides one-on-one, safe and respectful relationships to youth ensures that they can expand their possibilities and tap into limitless potential.
According to the Devereux Students Strengths Assessment survey, utilized by Big Brothers Big Sisters to measure improvements in social-emotional competencies, completed by 119 parents or caregivers three times over the course of one year of mentoring, 76 per cent of mentees improved on one or more social-emotional competencies.
Furthermore, 86 per cent of these youth felt their mentors pushed them to keep getting better, challenging their growth and 80 per cent of these youth felt that their mentors connected them with people or places that broaden their horizons. This research shows that mentorship-based programming empowers children to embrace their limitless potential, and that potential is our community’s most precious resource.
The demand for services available to youth and children facing adversity continues to grow as social isolation and the stress of returning to school impact the youth, teachers, friends and families of our communities. Despite this, and the overwhelming evidence that mentorship programming positively empowers the mental health of our children and youth, resources continue to be looked at as something that is a “nice to have,” not a necessity. It is critically important to switch the narrative and include one-on-one mentoring as a necessity for so many children and youth in our community.
It is important to note, many non-profit organizations offering support services are facing additional funding challenges amidst the pandemic, seeing corporate and personal donations reduced to a fraction of their normal volume. With the changing times, programming dedicated to supporting youth should be kept top of mind. It is our responsibility to ensure the next generation is fully supported to become leaders of the future.
Gurpreet Lail is president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area.