A mentor is different from a parent or teacher for a number of subtle reasons.
Parents have a vested interest in their child’s welfare and judgment may be clouded by their emotional involvement and the type of relationship between parent and child. If this is the first time a parent has been presented with a particular problem they may be at a loss to know how to proceed.
Parents can have unconscious agendas which influence how they respond to a child and in fact the parent may be the source of the child’s problem.
A teacher has the educational welfare of the child as their first priority. The consideration that a teacher is in loco parentis suggests that the physical and mental health of the child are also important. However, a teacher has too little time and rarely the right training to take on the emotional care of the child. At the same time responsible teachers are aware of a child in difficulty and may be the first person to receive a confidence that the child has a problem.
A mentor is a wise and trusted counselor’ (The readers Digest Dictionary) and is not involved emotionally with the child. Careful training and experience mean they come across similar problems repeatedly and because they are able to be dispassionate can see more clearly than either parent or teacher ways to move forward. As this is their job they also have the time to support the child and research ways to alleviate whatever the problem is.
Any organization which proports to help individuals must have a support system in place to maintain the person supporting. Professional counselors have a supervisor who is highly trained and who within the bounds of confidentiality acts as a sounding board for the counselor and as wise and trusted counselor’. In other words the mentor should not be dealing with an issue presented by a child in isolation. It is difficult for parents and teachers to have such support available. Often parents do not know where to turn or who to ask.
Confidentiality is an important issue. If a child is being abused in any way, the mentor knows who to approach for the legal protection the child. In this case confidentiality cannot be maintained. This is something a mentor must understand and cope with while maintaining the confidence of the child.
A mentor may also be used to give extra support to a child who has difficulty with, say learning, but is not in trouble otherwise. Mentors are safe people for the child to risk their confidence but have neither a parental nor a teaching role.