Forming First Impressions
Mentors and mentees often approach the relationship with expectations.
At the beginning of a match, you and your mentee may have preconceived notions of what the relationship will be like. While these expectations aren’t necessarily right or wrong, it’s important to understand that a mentoring relationship can be successful even when it looks or feels different from what you anticipated. Be aware of your vision and expectations for the match, as well as your biases and stereotypes. You’ll need to recognize and manage your assumptions, approaching the relationship with an open mind. Your mentoring program’s training will also help you understand and manage your own assumptions of what to expect from your mentee and from the relationship.
Realistic expectations help provide a stable foundation for a mentoring relationship. When initial expectations are too high or are unrealistic, tension can occur. If you keep your expectations realistic, it is likely to help you and your mentee to bond.
It is also important to be clear about your role as a mentor. A mentor is a friend, a role model, a person to talk to, and another adult who is proud of the child. Mentors should not aim to be a mentor to the young person’s family, a social worker, a doctor, or a “savior.”
Program staff typically help parents and caregivers to be realistic about the role of the mentor during this initial phase of the relationship. Speak with mentoring program staff if at any time you are concerned about the expectations that you, your mentee, or his parents/caregivers have about the relationship.
Mentees’ expectations may be based on their past experiences with adults.
You probably don’t yet know much about your mentee’s experiences with significant adults or how these experiences have shaped his ability to have a trusting relationship with an adult. The key is to respect the newness of the relationship and let it develop naturally. Being overeager for closeness is not a good way to begin a mentoring relationship.
Your mentoring program coordinator may facilitate your first meeting with your mentee or may provide materials that describe how to lay the groundwork for the relationship. The coordinator will also share the program’s rules and expectations for mentors, mentees, and parents/caregivers.
Youth who have experienced trauma may resist a relationship at first.
Youth with a traumatic past (including those in foster care, those involved in gangs or at risk for gang involvement, and adjudicated youth) may have good reason to be very cautious about trusting and beginning to bond with an adult mentor. Try not to take this personally. They are simply relying on behaviors that have protected them from harm in unsafe situations.
Your patience and commitment will give your mentee time and a reason to begin to trust you and develop a relationship with you. Be patient with yourself as well. Trust doesn’t develop overnight. Your mentoring program’s staff should be able to provide suggestions for how to navigate this potentially sensitive stage of the relationship.
During this early stage, you and your mentee are getting to know each other, establishing norms, and beginning to bond. Especially during this early stage of the mentoring relationship, you should focus on being reliable and a good listener, willing to learn about your mentee and her experiences.