There are many reasons why a youth may need a mentor. No matter what the need, there are certain qualities a mentor must have in order to be effective. The most important feeling a mentee should experience in the mentoring relationship is the feeling of being cared about. No matter what need they possess, youth in mentoring programs have had doors closed in their lives and are looking for one to open. An effective mentor possesses a kind of openness unlike other adults in the youth’s life.
An Open Schedule
An effective mentor makes time for their mentee. You do not have to be free every minute of every day, but always make time to meet with your mentee. Many mentoring programs ask that you meet at least one hour a week, but there are other programs that ask for more or less time. So, pick a program that has a time commitment that works for you. Before you become a mentor, make sure you have do not have too many time commitments. Having a mentor who can never meet or always cancels would be more damaging to the youth than not having a mentor at all.
An Open Mind
An effective youth mentor will come into the relationship with an open mind and no expectations. When you place expectations on someone, especially a youth, one can feel pressured or feel like they do not measure up. When expectations are not met, it can usually result in dissatisfaction, blame and insecurity.
You cannot expect your youth to like you right away. Often times, mentors will expect an instant connection and are disappointed when this does not happen. This can lead to frustration, resentment and may cause the mentor to want someone more “compatible.” On the flip side, you cannot expect that you will have nothing in common with your youth. Mentors who believe this are often awkward during their first meeting or hold back. This expectation turns into a self fulfilling prophecy. Mentors who do not try because they “just don’t have anything in common” prevent a real connection with their mentee. Remember, you were matched with this youth for a reason. Most programs have a matching process that ensures a compatible match. A good mentor will keep trying with their youth. Talk to your mentee to find out what they like. Your interest in your mentee will make the youth feel like you really care about them.
Also, remember that just because the youth is in a mentoring program, they are not a bad child. Mentors who come into the relationship thinking the worst of their mentee will not put much effort in helping their mentee. In other words, if you think your mentee is a bad child, you will just chalk it up to them being a bad kid when they act out. Their actions may just be a cry for help. Effective mentors see the cry for help and that is why they are different from other adults in the youth’s life.
One of the most important things a mentor does is listen. A mentor may be the one person the youth feels comfortable talking to about their problems. One reason is because mentors are there for the youth. When a youth is with their mentor, they don’t have to hear “I’m too busy” or “I don’t care” because the mentor is there for them. A mentor’s focus is on their mentee, not on work or other members in the family. Make sure to listen to your mentee when they talk to you. You may learn more about them, their family or how you can help them succeed. When you listen to your mentee, you are showing them that you care about their opinions, thoughts and, most of all, you care about them. This will not only give the mentee confidence, but it will also build their trust.
Remember to keep your conversations confidential, unless you suspect abuse or think that the youth may harm others or their selves.
An Open Heart
The most important thing an effective mentor has is an open heart. Mentors who truly care about helping youth will show it in a variety of ways. Always congratulate a mentee on a success and tell them how proud you are. When a mentee fails, ask how you can help them and encourage them to try again. Always encourage, support and congratulate. Attend plays, games, concerts or anything else your mentee is in. A mentee who is some kind of caring, supportive relationship will use that as a model in future relationships. A mentee’s success is in part because they have someone there who is encouraging them. An effective mentor is one who has a mentee who doesn’t want to disappoint them.
When you open your heart, you are not only allowing a youth to open their own, but you’re also allowing them to step into yours.