It's not easy to trust a stranger, especially if you're a young
person who's had a lot of bad experiences with adults in the past.
It may take a whole lot to build up trust. Don't interpret caution
as a rejection. A young person may not show it -- in fact, he or
she may not even know it fully -- but your help is definitely wanted.
While most mentoring relationships develop and flourish without
serious problems, things do happen. Mentors have an important role,
but that role does not include medical or psychological treatment,
or family counseling. There are support systems in place for real
emergencies. The most a mentor is expected to do -- and should do
-- is to help guide a young person to the appropriate source of
Many first-time volunteers worry that differences in age, race,
religion, education, or gender will be insurmountable barriers.
Actually, most experienced mentors report that mentoring a young
person from a different background broadened their own horizons
and deepened their understanding of other people and cultures.
This is a very serious concern. Mentoring is a deep commitment.
It will do far more harm than good to enter a young person's life,
build up trust, and then abandon the relationship. Be as honest
as possible with yourself when committing to be a mentor -- for
everyone's sake. If you aren't sure about in-depth mentoring, try
one of the many shorter-term alternatives, such as tutoring, or
one-time projects. Ask about these at your local volunteer center.
If you are there for your young friend no matter what; if you listen
and really hear what's being said; and if you do your best to counsel
and not to judge, you will have done everything right. Some young
people are readier than others for a mentor. Some may test a mentor's
commitment. Try not to take such behavior personally. Just keep
trying your best and keep doing the right things. Gauge your success
by your actions, not your mentee's.
A better question is, "What encouragement can I give if my mentee
disappoints himself or herself?" Mentors are in the business of
helping young people achieve their fullest potential. You can be
sure that mistakes will be made. You won't be able to help a young
person learn from a mistake if you can't handle it yourself.