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The Mentor’s Field Guide: Question 18.

We love this question and love the would-be mentors who ask it, because we are convinced that if you are putting thought into this issue, the odds are high that you can be a great mentor to a young person. Why? Experience tells us that the very worst mentors are those who move into the mentoring experience with supreme confidence and the  unyielding belief that they are exactly the kind of “ adult influence”  that young people need. And research underscores this point.

All potential mentors should ask themselves, and ask seriously, whether they will be good mentors. There are several ways to explore this question:

  1. Turn the research on the attributes of good mentors into questions. For example, consider the following: do I have the time to be a reliable partner to a young person? Do I enjoy ( or think I will) spending time with a young person? Am I able to set boundaries on the relationship in a way that keeps it on track? Do I want to mentor because I want to help a young person find and pursue her own ambitions or because I have important lessons I think every young person needs to hear? 
  2.  Tell a friend or family member whose judgment you trust that you are thinking about becoming a mentor, and listen to that person’s feedback.
  3. Talk with mentors and see whether their experiences make you want to participate in mentoring firsthand.
  4. Read a published account of a mentoring experience, for example, Ron Suskind’s  A hope in the Unseen.

Kids aren’t perfect and aren’t looking for perfection in their mentors. They are looking for people who have a genuine interest in them, like them, and are willing to learn about them and about how to be helpful to them.

Finally, remember that even if you decide mentoring isn’t for you, your desire to help young people is a wonderful and well aimed one. There are many ways to act on that impulse, starting with taking on a different kind of volunteer assignment at a mentoring program that interests you ( e.g., organizing data that tracks the mentoring programs operations and outcomes or helping to set up training and other events for mentors and mentees). Most programs are keenly interested in building their corps of dedicated volunteers and will warmly welcome you in a supportive capacity.

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 18. Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®, Copyright © 2012 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN ; 877-240-7251, ext. 1; All rights reserved.