What does it mean to be a mentor in 2018?

Ask any middle schooler how many social media accounts they have, and the number likely can’t be counted on one hand. Toddlers are being given tablets and phones in place of building blocks and bug catchers. The internet has become etched into our DNA. But exactly what are these young children looking at on their devices? Usually other people. It’s so easy to follow another’s life and begin to look up to them — even consider them a mentor. So what does it mean to be a mentor in 2018?

On one hand, a mentor can have a positive impact on the lives of youths. They can be inspiring, for example, for those who are disadvantaged or underprivileged to see someone with the same adversities as them becoming successful. For instance, fencing champion Daryl Homer grew up in a single family home in the Bronx. Now, he spends time mentoring inner-city kids and teaching them how to fence so that they may have the same opportunities as him. This is just one humbling story — there are many other paralympians, philanthropists and regular people who prove to young children just exactly what they may be capable of.

In a similar manner, mentors can help greatly in careers. A career mentor can help with a variety of aspects related to one’s professional life. For one, they can help set attainable goals based on their past experiences in the same field. Having small goals is a great way to measure one’s success in their career, and they are much easier to set with the knowledge of a wise professional. Also, they can help motivate you. It’s likely that if you’re facing hardships at your job, they’ve encountered something similar, and can coach you through it. Finally, they can help you get jobs in the first place. Through the connections they’ve made over years of networking, they are often capable of getting in contact with someone who is hiring.

On the other hand, some mentors can be incredibly damaging to those who look up to them. As more and more children find their mentors through social media outlets like YouTube and Instagram, it’s hard to filter out who is worthy of being a mentor. When a child realizes or is told that their mentor is problematic, they could have a variety of responses. For one, they may become defensive. In the case of singer Melanie Martinez, who was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting a close friend, her fans had one of two responses: a few who accepted that she was likely in the wrong, and others who bullied the accuser through tweets and messages. Many didn’t want to accept that Martinez could have done something wrong, and got aggressive towards the person who claimed to be assaulted.

Similarly, fans may begin to defend their mentor’s actions and normalize something that they regularly wouldn’t find acceptable. In recent news, YouTuber Logan Paul published a video containing footage of a dead body in the Japanese “Suicide Forest.” Many media outlets condemned Paul’s actions, claiming that many of his vlogs while in Japan were not only disrespectful and borderline racist, but were showing graphic and unacceptable content to his young viewers. Parents were warned to sit down with their children and educate them on suicide as well as how to respect others when visiting foreign countries for fear that they’d begin to normalize this type of behavior.

Overall, it’s difficult to give a definite answer on whether or not a child’s mentor is beneficial to their life. While some prove to have a positive influence in one’s career, personal life or mental and emotional wellbeing, their idol may become a toxic impact on their life if they end up being more problematic than not. In the end, it’s important to realize that mentors are people too, and may make mistakes or hold values that can be controversial. Being objective can help ensure that one’s morals are not swayed in a negative direction just because they put someone on a pedestal.

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