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The biggest cause of death for young Australians is suicide.  Youth mentoring organisations are calling out for intergenerational mentors to address the concerns of young people before it gets too late.

Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Monday, August 12, 2019 - 17:16
File size
5 min 23 sec

72 year-old Mary Martin was a midwife and a nurse before she retired in Sydney.

Having worked with children and adolescents most of her life, Martin thought she had a good idea about teenagers.

However, through mentoring high school students with not-for-profit organisation Raise, she’s learnt that there are unique issues faced by today’s youth. 

“It’s a very learning stage for them and a few of them have been cyber-bullied and they have cyber-bullied and then said I would never have done that if I knew that my parents or the principal or a teacher or somebody would have read it.”

Raise was founded by Vicki Condon who decided to take action when a family friend’s 14-year-old son took his own life.

The latest study by Raise found that whilst one in three young people aren’t happy, only a third feel comfortable enough to share their problems with school counsellors.

“Access to technology means that they are comparing themselves with each other a lot more so their confidence becomes more of a struggle. Issues like body image and anxiety are much more evidenced. Our young people really benefit from having that trusted adult role model that they can talk to, who is neutral, who is not their parent, not their teacher.”

Over a thousand community mentors give two hours of their time every week to teenage mentees supported by Raise throughout Australia.

Martin found that the non-judgemental and confidential elements of mentoring enable young people to discuss their challenges that they wouldn’t otherwise tell their grandparents. 

“It’s up to them what they want to talk about. Some are very open and some are very closed.”

Vicki Condon says there are different reasons teenagers might seek help.

“They might be disengaged from their school work. They might be truanting a lot or not getting their work in on time. They might have mental illness so they maybe experiencing anxiety or depression or self-harm. They might have lost a parent to a major illness or they might just need some help to set goals and achieve them.”

In Western Australia, Victoria and parts of New South Wales, not-for-profit organisation EdConnect  pairs disadvantaged and at-risk youngsters with older mentors.

CEO Gerri Clay explains why over half of EdConnect’s mentors are aged over 55.

“Perhaps grandchildren live in another country. The contact they have with those grandchildren isn’t as much as they’d like and that’s been enough reason why they’ve come volunteering.”

Former engineer Alain Bernay decided to become an EdConnect mentor as he was approaching retirement seven years ago.

He has so far mentored seven teenagers aged from 13 to 15.

He tries to introduce skills like meditation or gratitude that schools don’t often teach to help his mentees approach life more positively.

“Every generation I think has its own challenge. My generation, I was just at Soviet War and it was still a very very strict society. Young children these days, they have all these modern facility like computer and phone which a lot of them they spend a lot of time playing games but basically we all have the same issue in life is to build confidence.” 

What surprised Bernay was how he came across a new passion by chance through a French language teacher he met at the mentoring program. 

“Through her, I discover here in Perth, French theatre group and I started to do theatre for the past 2 years which is also very rewarding. So everything I do is bringing me new opportunity, new challenges, which is the thing I am always looking for in life.”

According to Gerri Clay, it’s not uncommon for mentors to find themselves being mentally better-off and physical more active through mentoring an hour a week. 

“It’s about being connected to community, having some structure in the weeks.”

As for Mary Martin, not only does she find herself a better grandmother to her growing grandchildren, she is also heartened by the transformations she’s witnessed over the past six years. 

“You can see the children changing. The first day you meet them, they come in their hoodies or their hair is in front of their faces and they’re looking down. At the end, you can see that visual change where their hoodies are off, their hair is back and they’re talking to people.”

SBS four-part drama The Hunting explores the perils of social media experienced by today’s teenagers. To learn more and catch up on missed episodes, go to SBS On Demand.

For tips, tools and advice to manage online safety issues, visit the eSafety website here

Young People can contact Kids Helpline for confidential  support on any issue anytime - 1800 551 800