While new mentors are excited to meet their mentees and begin mentoring, there are many “what ifs” when beginning anything new. Answers to these common concerns may relieve anxiety for new mentors.

What if…we don’t hit it off right away?

It is not easy to trust a stranger, especially if you are a young person who has had negative experiences with adults in the past. It may take a while to build up trust. Do not interpret caution as rejection. A young person may not show it—in fact, he or she may not even realize it fully—but your help is definitely wanted.

What if…something extremely serious comes up?

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. Contact the site supervisor for information. The most a mentor is expected to do—and should do—is to help guide a young person to the appropriate source of professional help.

What if…we don’t have anything in common?

Many first-time mentors 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 peoples and cultures and experiences.

What if…for some reason I cannot mentor anymore?

This is an important concern. Mentoring is a serious commitment. There are times, however, when things happen over which you have no control—perhaps a job relocation or illness—and you simply must withdraw from your mentoring relationship. If that happens, you need to speak with your site supervisor and discuss the best way to end the relationship. Except for such unavoidable circumstances, it is best to remain in the mentoring relationship. You could do far more harm than good if you were to enter a young person’s life, build up trust, and then abandon the relationship. Be honest with yourself when committing to be a mentor. If you are not sure about long-term mentoring, try one of the many shorter-term alternatives, such as tutoring or one-time projects.

What if…I do something wrong?

If you are there for your young friend no matter what; if you listen and really listen to what is being said, and if you do your best to counsel and not to judge, you will have done everything right. Some young people are more ready 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 by following your mentoring program’s guidelines. Gauge your success by your actions, not your mentee’s.

Adapted from The National Mentoring Partnership

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While you’re no doubt excited to begin mentoring, there are many “what ifs” when starting a new program.

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