When a parent determines that a mentor might be helpful for her child, choosing the right program requires more than a telephone call. Good mentoring programs offer to youths healthy relationships with caring adults who provide support, guidance and enrichment. Although the parent is not present during much of the mentoring activities, her role is critical to the success of the relationship. Mentoring programs should offer parents insight into the mentor-mentee relationship and guidelines for ensuring a good experience for everyone (Ref 1).
Finding the right mentoring programs begins with understanding what mentoring is and is not. Mentoring provides a structured relationship with boundaries and expectations. The child's needs determine the goals for the mentor-mentee relationship. Effective mentors help youths develop new skills, build character and strengthen their confidence. Mentors serve as examples for their young charges. They develop friendships with mentees and function as another caring adult in the child’s life. Mentors, however, are not babysitters or replacements for parents (Ref 2-p5).
Choosing a Mentoring Program
Many groups offer mentoring, including schools, churches and community or nonprofit organizations. Your choices might include group or one-on-one mentoring, e-mentoring, peer mentoring and team mentoring with one child and multiple mentors or a group of mentors and mentees. Mentoring activities can take place at a community center, or the mentor might determine the activities and locations. Choose a program that fits your comfort level and the needs of your child (Ref 2-p11).
Verify that the program performs criminal background checks, including sex offender registries, on all volunteer mentors (Ref 3). Programs also should screen mentors to ensure that each has the qualities necessary for effective mentoring. Safety requires the program staff to remain involved with the mentor through regular meetings and activity reports as long as a relationship continues. Talk to your child about safety rules, such as not accepting gifts or attending unscheduled activities, and encourage her to come to you if she feels uncomfortable (Ref 2-p6-7).
Most mentoring programs recruit volunteers who use their time and skills to help young people. Mentors can provide tutoring, career exploration, male guidance for at-risk boys, extracurricular activities or just a friendly ear. Programs should use information gathered from volunteer screening to aid in making good mentor-mentee matches. Talk to your child about mentors and about his preferences. Make sure the program knows your family's values and rules. When the program makes the match, keep the mentor in the loop about important family issues, your child’s dietary needs and changes in contact information. Give the relationship time to blossom, but ask for a different mentor if time does not improve the match (Ref 9-10).
Parental involvement is critical to the success of the mentoring relationship. Just as too much involvement by parents can weaken the mentor/mentee relationship and the expected benefits, too little involvement sends the wrong message to the child. According to The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, parents should maintain a positive attitude about the relationship and encourage their children to talk to them about their experiences. Make sure your child attends activities and participates fully. View the mentoring experience as a partnership that requires a clear understanding of roles and expectations, cooperation, mutual respect and communication (Ref 1).