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It seems simple at first, the notion of being a mentor: someone who spends time with a young person. But once you are in the mentor role, you may find yourself in situations where you are uncertain about your part in the relationship. Is it appropriate to provide discipline when she’s out of line? What if I suspect he is experiencing trouble at home; what is my responsibility? How can I have the most positive impact on my mentee?

There is no one answer concerning what your role is or is not. If you are involved in a formal mentoring program, the staff may be able to provide clearer direction for you based on the program’s basic rules and expectations. In general, here are some basic guidelines to help you determine your role with your mentee.


…a mentor to the family. In fact, some mentoring programs intentionally limit contact between mentors and parents. Your role is to provide special attention to your mentee. While getting acquainted with parents, caregivers, and siblings can be helpful to understanding your mentee and her situation, your energy and attention should be focused on providing support to your mentee. 

…a social worker or doctor. If your mentee tells you about experiences or health conditions that concern you, always turn to the mentoring program staff for help. Although arming yourself with information about, say, a learning disability or abuse may help you understand your mentee better, it is not your responsibility to try to address conditions or situations that require professional help. The staff at the mentoring program may be able to find additional help for the mentee, including local information and referral services.

…a savior. You should not see your role in this relationship as coming in to make a young person’s life better or to fix his problems. Certainly your support can help your mentee overcome hurdles. But don’t forget that every young person-regardless of his circumstances-has gifts and talents that make him more than a “recipient” of your support. Your mentee should be treated as having as much to offer to the world, because he does.

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