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Personal Problem Solving

Posted by on February 20, 2013

As a mentor, you can help your mentee develop problem-solving skills.

Developing the skills to resolve personal difficulties in a positive way can help your mentee navigate even the most challenging situations. When your mentee tells you about a personal problem and you’re not sure how to respond, remember that the greatest gift you can give is to guide her to understand and solve the problem herself.

To explore a scenario in which a mentor supports a mentee to solve a problem, read the scenario that is most relevant for your mentoring relationship:

  • Middle Childhood (ages 7-10): Money to Go to the Movies
  • Early Adolescence (ages 11-13): Concern about Gang Involvement
  • Adolescence (ages 14-18): Controlling Boyfriend
  • Interactivity: What Would You Do? Your mentee is considering smoking pot.

Middle Childhood (ages 7-10): Money to Go to the Movies

  • Challenge: Your nine-year-old mentee says that a group of her friends are going to the movies this afternoon. They want her to come along, but she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the ticket and snacks. She says she hates not being able to afford to do the things her friends do, and mentions that the last time she told these friends that she couldn’t go to the movies with them, a couple of them laughed and said they couldn’t believe her mom didn’t have enough cash for her go to the movies. Your mentee asks you if you could give her $20 for the movie ticket, popcorn, and a soda—just this once.
  • Response: Click the icon underneath the Note below to complete a drag-and-drop activity on how to respond to your mentee’s situation.
  • A Note About Your Mentee’s Development (ages 7–10) 
    As your mentee grows closer to age nine or ten, friendships will become more important to her and she’ll develop more complex relationships with peers. Along with this comes an increase in peer pressure and a desire to fit in. You can provide objective, caring support to your mentee by talking with her about her friendships and how she feels about them. It is not appropriate for you to undermine her parents or to give her cash.

Early Adolescence (ages 11-13): Concern about Gang Involvement

  • Challenge: The last few times you’ve met with your 12-year-old mentee, you’ve noticed that he’s dressed in red and is wearing a red bandana. You know that the Bloods are an active gang in his neighborhood, and you’re concerned that he may be involved with them. You ask your mentee whether he’s involved with the Bloods. He says, “Yeah,” and shrugs.
  • Response:
  • Establish boundaries by letting your mentee know that you are obligated to report criminal activity to the mentoring program coordinator (refer to your mentoring program guidelines).
  • Express your concern for your mentee’s well-being, using “I statements.”  Tell him know that you are there to support him to make the best possible choices.
  • Ask him what’s going on that’s causing him to start hanging out with this group. Due to the serious nature of this decision, you should spend a lot of time listening. It’s probably what he needs most.
  • Inquire about the issues that were involved in his making the decision to join the gang.
  • Talk with your mentee about how he is feeling about joining a gang. Ask what it is he believes the gang can provide that he can’t receive anywhere else.
  • Read about and share with your mentee the risks associated with being part of a gang.
  • Depending on your mentee’s motivation for being involved with the gang, elicit alternatives from him to hanging out with the gang (e.g., What are other ways to fit in? What are strategies for making friends who aren’t in a gang?).
  • Tell your mentee that your primary concern is for his safety and well-being (and the safety of those around him). Explain that you will support him in thinking through this serious decision.
  • Remember that you can’t solve this problem for your mentee. You can only listen, help him think it through, and encourage him to make healthy choices.
  • If appropriate, support your mentee in making a plan of action.
  • Note: If your mentee is committing criminal activity as part of a gang, you are required to report this to your mentoring program.
  • A Note About Your Mentee’s Development (ages 11–13) 
    Your young adolescent mentee cares about fitting in, but he’s equally concerned with being an individual. Consider both of these factors when helping him think through difficult choices, such as resisting one or more influential friends who are involved with a gang and want him to join. You can reflect with your mentee on who he is and who he wants to become. You can also encourage him to think for himself, instead of automatically going along with what his peer group is doing.

Adolescence (ages 14-18): Controlling Boyfriend

  • Challenge: You’re starting to suspect that Abigail, your 16-year-old mentee, is being controlled by her boyfriend Mike. After Abigail misses several mentoring sessions in a row, you overhear her talking to Mike on the phone. It sounds as if he’s pressuring her to end the mentoring relationship. Abigail also seems to be less interested in her friends and school than she used to be. You know that Abigail’s birth mother was verbally and physically abusive to her, which is why she’s in foster care. You are paying special attention to signs that Mike may be abusive toward her, but you don’t want to push her too hard.
  • Response: As teenagers engage in romantic relationships, they can lose sight of other important relationships with friends and family and can become connected to individuals who use jealousy and violence as a means of control. Young women, in particular, can be especially vulnerable to deriving their sense of worth from romantic relationships. If you are concerned that your mentee may be romantically involved with a jealous partner, talk with her to understand if the person she’s involved with is exhibiting mild jealousy or if she’s being emotionally and/or physically abused. Using active listening and the six-step problem solving process can help you and your mentee to discuss this sensitive issue. Click on the icon underneath the Note and Resources below to listen to a response that uses problem solving and active listening.
  • A Note About Your Mentee’s Development (ages 14–18) 
    Dating and romantic relationships are important to the development of an adolescent’s identity and provide a training ground for future interpersonal relationships. But teenagers are at high risk of experiencing verbal, emotional, and physical abuse in their romantic relationships. Learning how to develop a healthy romantic relationship as a teenager can be a significant factor in your mentee’s ability to have non-abusive, mutually rewarding relationships later in life.


  • If at any point you learn that your mentee is experiencing abuse, you must report it to your mentoring program coordinator immediately.

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