Be sensitive to power differentials

Whether they’re trying to or not, mentors are in the position to influence their mentees. Because of this, as a mentor, you should refrain from religious or political proselytizing.

  • To further educate yourself and avoid misstepping, raise your own awareness of power dynamics in cross-age and cross-cultural relationships, and seek consultation from mentoring programs to effectively negotiate class, religion, political, race/ethnic difference.

Don’t cross boundaries

This includes both physical and social boundaries and requires you to be both sensitive and appropriate.

  • Touching: Some guidelines for professional helping relationships are easily translated to the mentoring context, such as prohibitions against sexual relationships and placing primacy on the needs and safety of the child.[2] Yet, the boundaries surrounding mentoring relationships are far murkier. Mentors fill a niche that lies somewhere between professional and kinship, and are thus afforded greater latitude in what constitutes appropriate boundaries. It is best to err on the side of caution when it comes to touching, as there are many ways to show affection and closeness that do not involve physical contact or even benignly crossed boundaries.
  • Avoid multiple roles. As a mentor, you should avoid entering into a personal, professional, financial, or other relationship with their protégés (and family members) if such a relationship might interfere with your objectivity or ability to work effectively as a mentor, or might harm or exploit the protégé.

Be trustworthy

Be aware of your responsibilities: Live up to your commitments for meeting frequency and match duration, as stipulated by the program. This type of consistency and reliability has been associated with more positive outcomes for youth participants

  • Don’t give up early: Unfortunately, as many as half of volunteer mentoring relationships end prematurely, most often at the request of the volunteer.[3]Early terminations can lead to decrements in youth functioning.[4]
  • If you are terminating the relationship, be sure to say goodbye. Mentors sometimes aren’t aware of the meaning that the relationship may hold, even when the relationship has been of a short duration, as children and adolescents sometimes struggle to articulate to adults how important they are to them.[5]

Act with integrity

Mentors should also conduct themselves with integrity in their protégés’ schools, homes, and communities by being respectful of customs and regularities. Absolutely avoid acting in ways that leave programs having to run interference.

  • Although there are always exceptions, mentors should be wary of entering into financial arrangements with protégés or their families.

Protect privacy and confidentiality

Serving as a confidante to young people can involve difficult decisions about what information can or should be kept confidential and what needs to be disclosed. Despite such complications, volunteers are rarely trained in the nuances of managing sensitive information, including situations in which confidence should be violated. Professional helpers are trained to disclose the limits of confidentiality, and mentors should follow suit.

  • Inform mentees of your obligation to break confidence should the protégé disclose intentions to be harmful to themselves or others. Similarly, you should report to the mentoring program any suspicions they have that their protégé is subject to abuse or neglect.