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Navigating Challenges

Posted by on February 7, 2013

A deeper connection can also uncover new challenges.

When you and your mentee are comfortable and connected, and things seem to be going well, it is common for challenges to arise. For example, your mentee may:

  • confide in you about something that puts her or someone else at risk of harm
  • skip several planned activities or distance herself from you
  • do something that seems to jeopardize her future


1. Stay within the boundaries of your role as a mentor.

It is often more appropriate that other adults in your mentee’s life help her to handle significant challenges. Focus on being the best mentor you can be within the limits of your relationship. Make sure you know whom to contact at your mentoring program if you need support or if something arises with your mentee that you’re not sure how to handle. For example, your mentoring program coordinator can provide an objective perspective and can connect your mentee to appropriate resources and services. It is also important to remember that, in most cases, your mentee’s parents and/or caregivers are deeply invested in her well-being. Work to keep lines of communication open with your mentee’s parent/caregiver, and seek his or her permission and guidance as appropriate.

2. Don’t take it personally.

Remember that if your mentee behaves poorly or puts herself or others at risk, it is not an indication of the youth’s feelings toward you, nor is it a sign that she has a character or personality flaw. Acting out is normal behavior to be expected of children and adolescents.

3. Prioritize the safety of your mentee.

As an adult friend – not a peer – you have an obligation to report to mentoring program staff if you learn about something that puts your mentee at risk. Even if you are a trained social worker or human services professional, in this relationship you are a mentor, not a case worker. Although your mentee may be angry at you for sharing this information, explain that you must put her safety first, no matter what.

4. Model commitment and consistency.

Even with solid agreements and contracts in place, your mentee may not show up for mentoring activities or live up to commitments. While this can be frustrating, remember that reliability and consistency are critical behaviors to model for your mentee.

5. Look for teachable moments – and note the positive.

The mentoring relationship provides many opportunities for your mentee to discuss and practice life skills. For example, if your mentee consistently misses or shows up late for mentoring activities, it’s likely that there are other situations where he doesn’t show up when he should. Ask him open-ended questions about his schedule and his communication with you. Support your mentee as he develops this and other life skills. Look for the good in your mentee and be sure to verbalize what you observe.

6. Seek support from program staff.

Some mentees, particularly those from challenging backgrounds, may fear success or be concerned that they will be criticized by former friends for “selling out.” As a result, some youth may relapse and have violent outbursts, become withdrawn, hang out with peers who exert a negative influence, or engage in petty crime. Turn to mentoring program staff for support to help you address these challenges.

7. Communicate openly with your mentee’s parent/caregiver and mentoring program staff.

Talking with your mentee’s parent/caregiver about the challenge that has emerged may help you to better understand the situation. A lack of communication can leave you and the parent feeling frustrated; and it is not helpful for your mentee to observe tension between you and her parent/caregiver.

8. Listen actively.

Active listening takes practice, but it can be a very effective way to respond and communicate in almost any situation.

Your focus during this stage is on remaining committed while navigating challenges, remembering that your mentee’s life experiences may have shaped her behavior.

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