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The Mentor’s Field Guide: Question 43


In general, what your mentee tells you should be kept private and confidential between you. This will be an important ingredient for building trust, especially with teenagers. There are certain situations that you will not be able to keep confidential, and you should make sure your mentee knows what these are in advance.

It is important not to make promises of confidentiality that you cannot keep. Talking about these issues in the early stages of establishing your mutual boundaries and expectations will help protect the trusting relationship you are creating.

You can talk with your mentee about how this is a special relationship between the two of you and explain that you will not be talking about them to their parents, teachers, or other adults unless there is a significant problem that threatens their health or wellbeing.

It is helpful to be specific in describing these situations, which will include child abuse, suicide risk, risk of harm to another person, and serious illegal activity, such as sexual activity that falls under the state’s sexual abuse or sexual assault statutes for underage young people.

If and when you feel it is necessary to break confidentiality, you should first discuss it with your program coordinator, who can advise you on how to handle it with your mentee and involve your mentee’s family as needed.

If you are mentoring a teenager, you can consider telling your mentee when you find it necessary to break confidentiality, explaining your concerns and your feeling that he needs help beyond what you can provide.

You can discuss with your mentee the person(s) you want to tell, what you will tell them and what you think will happen next.

You also can offer to go with your mentee to talk to an appropriate helping professional if he is willing and the law allows him to seek help independently of his parents.


Father and son (10-11) sitting at end of dock at edge of lake, talking, side view

Reprinted with permission from The Mentor’s Field guide: Answers You Need to Help Kids Succeed by Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick; Questions about the Mentoring Relationship, Question 43. Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®, Copyright © 2012 Search Institute, Minneapolis , MN ; 877-240-7251, ext. 1; All rights reserved.