Both parties are likely to have preconceptions about the relationship that influence how they judge one another over its course. One of the tasks of a caseworker should be to challenge unrealistic expectations and to gauge feelings over time. This self-analysis can be facilitated by discussions with caseworkers that focus on earlier experiences in the mentors’ own lives that drew them into the helping role. Like most mentors, you probably went into this out of a desire to make a difference in a young person’s life. Your desire to help is truly a gift to your mentee, but chances are that you were not exactly sure what “making a difference” looks like.

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Explain the boundaries.

At the right moment, it is also appropriate to explain, in terms the mentee can understand, the boundaries of your relationship, including what the mentee can expect in terms of Facebook, texting, etc.

Avoid judgement.

Try to avoid bombarding your mentee with questions, and be particularly careful not to dominate the conversation. Ask open-ended questions about what he likes (music, TV shows, games, sports) to better understand his interests, and encourage him to think about things he would like to do with you. Try to find common ground in things you both enjoy.

Don’t expect to solve everything.

It is also very important to remember that mentoring cannot take the place of professional treatment a troubled young person may need.

Be patient.

You and your mentee will be most successful when you can keep your goals on the back burner. This way, you can focus on helping your mentees establish their own goals and provide the support and guidance needed to achieve them. This is a fine balancing act, since you may see possibilities for your mentee that he would not see. If you do want to help your mentees raise their aspirations and broaden their horizons, you can do this most effectively if you guide rather than push your mentee in this direction.

Don’t have an agenda.

Mentors who go into mentoring with an agenda to change the mentee run the risk of feeling frustrated, disappointed, and rejected if the hoped-for changes do not materialize. These feelings, in turn, can lead the mentor to conclude that she is being ineffective or that the relationship is not working. Such feelings may be unintentionally conveyed to the mentee, or worse, may lead the mentor to give up on the relationship, thus inadvertently hurting rather than helping the mentee.

Don’t expect to push your mentee too much.

While it is natural to have goals for the child you want to help, trying to push your mentee to achieve your goals will not only make you seem more like a teacher or parent than a friend, it may also impede the development of the very type of relationship that can be most helpful. There is a further risk, too.

Examine your expectations about kids in general

It helps to step back now and then to examine your expectations: What do you want from the relationship, and what do you think your mentee wants? What exactly are you hoping to achieve? How do you or your mentee want your mentee’s life or behaviors to change because of you? How do you or your mentee define success? How does your role as a friend or “coach” call for a different approach to “helping” than that used by a parent, teacher, or professional youth worker? The more specific you can be in answering these questions, the better you can assess whether your expectations are realistic. In “It’s Not What I Expected” (2007), Boston College’s Renée Spencer demonstrates how counterproductive it can be when mentors fail to establish reasonable expectations for themselves, for their mentee, and for their relationship. But always remember, it is your mentee’s expectations that should drive the relationship, not yours.

Expect to develop trust and closeness: It is also particularly important to focus your expectations on developing feelings of trust and closeness in the early stages of your relationship, Building the relationship is the most important work you will do as a mentor, and the most successful relationships are those in which mentors take their lead from their mentees.