10 Keys to Connecting with a Mentee
Become the wise guide on the side for a season in a young person’s life
Here are some tips and strategies gleaned from global research to encourage mentors to build meaningful relationships with their mentees. This has become even more important in a post-pandemic world, as many young people have had their hopes and dreams shattered by lockdowns, long absences from school or college and, perhaps, the negative impact the pandemic has had on family relationships for any number of reasons.
1. Meet on ‘neutral turf’ in public places as often as you can in the early months, for safety and security reasons. Meet at the same time and the same place for the first few meetings to establish the rapport.
2. Keep the focus on your mentee. Encourage mentees to talk about their lives, their interests, their things. Talk as little as possible about yourself and, when you do so, it’s good to obtain their permission first.
3. Do things that your mentee wants to do whenever possible. Refer to ‘The Spirit of Mentoring – a manual for adult volunteers’ when you need ideas.
4. Remember the importance of empathy. Try to gain some understanding of where your mentee is coming from. Don’t go into the relationship with any great ‘rescuing’ or ‘saving’ ideas or your relationship will be doomed from the start.
5. Keep focusing on the fun element. You can have great conversations in your car, going for a walk, undertaking a variety of activities i. e, doing things together.
6. Be patient! It takes time for two strangers to connect. Don’t begin the relationship with unrealistic expectations. Remember, too, that there is a six to eight week ‘probationary’ period, during which time you and the mentee can decide whether or not you want to continue meeting (where applicable).
7. If your mentee seems to be uncomfortable with you, as the adult don’t take this personally. Maybe the young person will be prepared to persevere and get to know you better. Maybe not! Program staff will communicate with both parties to work out a positive way forward.
8. If your mentee is not in a good space, which can literally happen overnight, try to understand that this is why many of these young people are participating in a youth mentoring program. Their brains are still developing. They are more fragile than you might realize. Great mentors persevere, hang in there, are patient, wait until the young person is ready to re-engage and let the program staff take the lead. There is a chance that the mentoring relationship might fold. Again, don’t take it personally.
9. Make sure you set negotiated boundaries at the outset. Don’t get too intense, trying to contact your mentee too often during the early weeks of the relationship, as you might frighten the mentee away. Negotiate how you and your mentee will communicate during the mentoring season [following program policies and procedures where relevant].
10. Contact the program staff if you are concerned about anything to do with your mentoring relationship, no matter how trivial something might seem to you. Program staff are there to support and guide you as best as they possibly can.
In order to be effective, a mentor must be reliable, consistent, stable, perceptive, non-judgmental and patient; mentors should be able to plan interesting activities, model good values, listen, and help the mentee solve his or her own problems rather than offering easy solutions.
CHOICES: Encouraging Youth to Achieve Greatness
My latest book, CHOICES: Encouraging Youth to Achieve Greatness, published in September 2021, will serve as a practical guide to anyone working with young people. It provides a proven framework, including my personal mentoring experiences to add credibility to the framework, and could serve as a useful reference book. In addition, Mentoring Minutes: Weekly Messages to Encourage Anyone Guiding Youth, contains hundreds of tips and strategies which mentors can refer to each day of the year as a continual source of encouragement while they mentor youth. The books are available on Amazon and Kindle.