A girls high school years are some of the most challenging she will face. In addition to peer pressure, hormonal and physical changes, it is also a crucial time for her to make appropriate choices for her academic future and career.The Indian Governments 2022 Annual UDISE+ Report reveals that the gender gap between girl and boy students in the country has lessened significantly. Approximately 12.21 crore school students in India were girls, while 13.17 crore students were boys. The statistics for Higher Secondary students are also promising as far as the gender gap goes, with 1.38 crore girls and 1.47 crore boys. It is at this stage, that girls need mentorship to pursue their dreams and make the most of their skills.We see mentorship as something only for young working professionals. This couldnt be further from the truth, says Uttara Jayakumar, a Bangalore-based career counsellor and psychologist. A mentor is someone with experience and skill sets, who provides support to a younger or junior person, often known as a mentee. I cant think of anyone who needs mentorship more than school children, especially girls.She adds, Academia is fraught with ups and downs. There is always someone better than you, someone more talented, someone more multi-faceted. The need to excel can often bog you down. Teen suicides are at an all-time high because of all the pressure. A mentor can help you navigate this journey more smoothly. There can be different kinds of mentors. Teachers or academic staff can double up as mentors, but often dont have the time or bandwidth. Also, it might be a conflict of interest to mentor just one or two children from a class full of deserving students. Parents can be mentors as well, but this might prove to be difficult given that they cannot detach emotionally and look at the child and her situation objectively. Counsellors and professionals are ideal mentors, as can spend an hour or two every week looking at the childs worldview, assessing their abilities, hearing about their goals and challenges, and being able to guide them with that information. Trained mentors know how to tackle even the trickiest of situations, so it is always best to look for someone experienced.According to a write-up by the World Bank, parents are 2.5 times more likely to Google, Is my son gifted? than Is my daughter gifted? The international data that follows is also quite complex. Boys typically lag behind girls on all test averages, but they tend to perform marginally better in Mathematics and Science subjects as opposed to girls. Although it is changing now, girl children are still undermined in certain academic streams, says pharmaceutical researcher Dr Kaushalyaa Diwan. For instance, they are frequently told that STEM is not for them. These biases make them shift focus to other streams such as finance, the arts, humanities or law, to name a few. With the right kind of female mentorship though, this myth can be dispelled. We need more girls in technology innovation, AI, medicine, research, and other STEM fields. This can be done only when they have a positive force who believes in their potential. The decision needs to be made early, typically before a girl leaves Grade 10 and opts for her specialisation courses in Grades 11 and 12. An effective mentor can also help guide female students towards applying for scholarships and grants if their parents are unwilling or unable to spend the higher fees required for such courses.College admissions are another vital area where mentors can be immensely helpful. Deciding what courses to take is of course a given, but mentors can also provide logistical support - Guiding her on college admission tests and procedures, helping prepare her application essays, and motivation to go that extra step, think out-of-the-box and stand apart from the crowd.A good mentor doesnt just point out the praiseworthy aspects and positive feedback. They also gently put across recommendations to improve and criticisms on what factors hold back young girls from achieving their dreams. Although encouraging, they are not oblivious to the challenges ahead and will provide a girl with resilience and tools to overcome them. Most mentors stick to academic and career goals, but some also blur the boundaries by helping with the challenges in ones personal life, relationships with family and friends, peer pressure, and so on. However, the one thing a mentor has to be is non-judgemental.One common myth is that one-on-one mentorships (both virtual and face-to-face) are the most effective for young school girls, says Uttara. This might be true if there is a specific goal such as college admissions or tackling mental health issues. Group mentorships can be equally fulfilling, especially because teenage girls see their peers, girls just like them, manoeuvring the same challenges. They may even benefit from sharing ideas with one another. This is really something to consider. The ideal mentorship programmes would be a mix of group sessions and one-on-one meetings.A female mentor can help boost the one thing that younger teenage girls lack the most self-confidence - by acting as a sounding board and validating their ideas and dreams for the future. Contrary to popular perception, a mentor does not tell a mentee what to do. Instead, it encourages her to look inwards and reflect upon what questions to ask herself, and accordingly arrive at decisions that are apt and ideal for her. It also motivates her to step out of her comfort zone and seek new avenues that she may otherwise not consider. A good mentor will also use their network to help their mentee pursue internship opportunities or a small project that will further their knowledge base. Lastly, female mentors provide representation to the numerous young girls they take under their wing, who see them as a source of inspiration. After all, girls cant be what they cannot see!