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This isn’t how you pictured your relationship with your mentee turning out. She was supposed to burst out the door of her home with excitement every time you picked her up, hang on your every word, and spend at least half of her time with you laughing and smiling. Hasn’t quite worked out that way? There can be any number of reasons why your mentee doesn’t appear to find your time together as enjoyable as you hoped. Some of those reasons may have nothing to do with you.

One mentor had been taking her mentee to a wide variety of restaurants, in the hope he would learn about foods he had never tried. She was sure he would be especially excited at a Mongolian barbecue, where he could assemble his own ingredients and watch a cook stir-fry them. Instead, he was not very responsive, and she was discouraged that he seemed unimpressed. However, when she met his parents two months later, they said he had raved about the restaurant and convinced the family to go there! This mentor learned that she couldn’t necessarily judge the impact of her efforts by her mentee’s outward reactions.

There are several things you can try that can get below the surface to identify what your mentee is really feeling.

  • Be patient. Dig a little deeper to see what the real issue is. It could just be that trust is still being built between you and your mentee, and she is just testing you to see if you will leave (possibly like others in her life have before you). Young people don’t respond well to pressure, especially young people in need of a positive adult role model. Find avenues that eventually she may share what is blocking her from enjoying her time with you.
  • Identify activities jointly. Research shows that empowering the mentee to select activities you’ll do during your visits together is one of the factors that contribute to the success of a mentor-mentee relationship. One mentor-mentee match had two jars, one filled with low-cost activities the mentor wanted to do, the other with low-cost ideas the mentee wanted to do. They took turns picking an activity from their jar during each visit.
  • Ask a family member for ideas. Parents and caregivers like to be asked for their opinions. If your program allows you to be in contact with your mentee’s family, consider talking on the phone and meeting for coffee to gain some ideas or insights. Check this out with your mentee first to be sure he feels comfortable with this effort.
  • Help her past her shyness. It could be that your mentee is just shy and having a hard time opening up. One mentee was a very quiet child. After several visits, her mentor told her she would tell her whole life story to the mentee and keep talking until the mentee “cried uncle.” It got both of them laughing and broke the ice a little.

Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®. From Mentoring for Meaningful Results: Asset-Building Tips, Tools, and Activities for Youth and Adults. Copyright © 2008 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN; 800-888-7828; All rights reserved.