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How Mentors Can Better Support Their Mentees

Imagine you’re a mentor for a student who needs immediate help. What’s the best way to respond?

Would you first meet the mentee’s immediate emotional needs, ensure their physical and psychological safety, or focus on problem-solving and resources?

“You want to meet emotional needs first,” said Dr. Dustianne North, the facilitator for the July 20 MENTOR webinar, “Supporting Mentors and Mentees in the Face of Challenges.”

“If someone’s crying, if they’re nervous about having come to you, you want to make sure they feel okay about that before anything else.”

The Collaborative Mentoring Webinar Series is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention through the National Mentoring Resource Center. It is facilitated in partnership with MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.

North asked participants to complete this poll at the start of the webinar, and

71 percent said they would address the physical and psychological safety needs of the student first, 20 percent said they would first give the mentee immediate emotional support, and the remaining 9 percent said they would focus on problem-solving and resources.

North cautioned those whose first instinct was to solve problems for students, as mentors may not know enough about the situation to suggest an effective solution. She said it’s also important to empower young people and teach them how to think for themselves.

“Youth often have the answers within themselves for what they need or want to do for their situation, and it’s our job to bring that out,” North said. “Most importantly, we need to respect their right to make their own decisions and to make their own mistakes even sometimes. The goal is to empower them rather than necessarily to tell them what to do.”

Resources from MENTOR
Find more slides from the webinar here. For other resources from MENTOR, check out “Supporting Young People In The Wake of Violence and Trauma.”

The webinar also covered common roadblocks and challenges mentors might experience. Experts Jaime Romo, Ed.D. and Torie Weiston, Ph.D. spoke about the role of being a mentor, how to respond when a mentee is facing challenges, and the importance of creating a safe space for students to engage, trust, and be themselves.

Romo said “safety and trust are some of the most pressing issues” that today’s youth face. He said that to gain trust as a mentor, it is important to establish boundaries, hold onto the role as a mentor, and embrace confidentiality.

“It has to do with how we manage our boundaries, how we are clear in our role, how we use our authority, and the spaces we use that are safe for them to have difficult conversations,” Romo said.

“Dealing with Difficult Issues with Youth: Crises and Opportunities
To learn more about basic communication strategies and roadblocks to effective communication, check outDealing with Difficult Issues with Youth: Crises and Opportunities.”

North said there are many roadblocks to effective communication between mentors and their mentees that prevent them from connecting and exchanging trust—this can include the mentor being too demanding, judgmental, argumentative, giving too many lectures, divert, or withdrawn. 

Weiston said that it is vital to address the underlying issue of whatever problem your mentee is experiencing. She said it’s important for mentors to be active, engaged, and to listen to young people.

“It’s not about using mentoring to manage symptoms, but leveraging mentoring to address root causes,” Weiston said.

Some of these root causes stem from adversity trauma, as Romo referenced in his discussion on Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study, a report that demonstrated an association of adverse or traumatic childhood experiences to health and social problems in adult life.

“Individuals with an ACE score of four or more are 460 percent more likely to be suffering from depression,” Romo said.

Romo added that the best way to respond to mentee trauma is to reflect, explore, and listen as needed. In the end, mentoring is not about “fixing” youth, but supporting them through the challenges they face beyond their mentorship.

MENTOR is a national partner of America’s Promise Alliance. Are you a partner who has an event, report, or initiative you think we should cover? Email Eboni-Rose Thompson.