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You may feel as if it wasn’t all that long ago that you yourself were taking that roller-coaster ride through adolescence. If you’re a peer mentor, you still may be going through adolescence yourself. Or maybe you’re an adult mentor with children who have gone through or are currently going through adolescence. No matter what your level of experience is with young people, it helps to understand a little more about typical changes that happen to them as they approach and go through different stages. This helps you identify normal behaviors in your mentee and better equips you to react to them.

Below is a summary of typical developmental experiences of young people at different ages, as well as some tips for helping your mentee thrive during these critical developmental changes.


By the time young people are between the ages of 10 and 12, they are well into puberty. As they age, they may worry about personal traits that are vital to them, but are hardly noticeable to others.

Young people also go through emotional changes that impact their self-image. By the time they are between the ages of 13 and 16, they will likely experience emotional extremes, from being happy to feeling sad or from thinking they are smart to believing they are dumb. They may want both to fit in with the crowd while at the same time stand out and be special. It is normal to see these kinds of emotional extremes continue well into their teen years as they take on more independence and make more decisions for themselves.

Tips for interacting with your mentee:

  • Be sensitive to how she feels about her body or other issues.
  • Acknowledge feelings, positive traits and abilities, and help him recognize his own genuine worth.
  • Make sure your mentee knows how important she is to you. Don’t assume she knows.
  • Bolster his self-confidence by emphasizing independent choice, encouraging self-respect, and recognizing positive behavior.
  • Find out what your mentee loves learning about or what she’s interested in studying.


Adolescents typically start to understand the consequences of different actions by about age 13 or 14. At this age they also are increasingly considering who they are in the world. As they age, adolescents mature in their ability to think through problems on their own. By the time people are close to 17 or 18 years old, they are both excited and scared to be on their own.

Tips for interacting with your mentee:

  • Encourage her to take responsibility for her actions.
  • Help him make good choices, like getting his homework done before you do a fun activity together.
  • Suggest that your mentee break planning and decision making down into a series of steps.
  • Ask questions that highlight the positive results of good decisions and the unpleasant consequences of poor planning.
  • Listen carefully without criticizing.
  • Listen to you Mentee’s thoughts about the future.
  • Support and respect his decisions.
  • Offer ideas about what you think she might like to do or be good at.
  • Find other mentors who can help direct his choices.
  • Share your own excitement about the world and its possibilities.


Generally, 10- to 12-year-olds still enjoy being around family members. This is typically the age when romantic relationships start to become of interest, and friends and peers become even more important in their lives. As young people mature, they begin to actively seek out ways to be more independent of their family and to bond more closely with peers.

Tips for interacting with your mentee:

  • At this age, young people are beginning to think like adults, but they don’t have the experience and judgment needed to act like adults. Help your mentee recognize this.
  • Suggest constructive behaviors, but provide multiple options to allow your mentee to make choices. For example, describe the positive aspects of helping a younger child with homework, doing chores without being asked, or volunteering with a friend at a local charity.
  • Never give up on your mentee, even when things get tough.

Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®.  From Mentoring for Meaningful Results: Asset-Building Tips, Tools, and Activities for Youth and Adults. Copyright © 2008 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN; 800-888-7828; All right