How to be a great mentor

You do not need to have all the answers to be a great mentor – you just need to care.

Movies and books often tell stories of great mentors who change lives. When we see characters like Mr. Myagi in the “Karate Kid,” John Keating in “Dead Poets Society” or Yoda from “Star Wars,” it is easy to think that mentors always have the perfect thing to say. In reality, mentoring is less about what you say and more about being there for a young person. Here are a few tips from Michigan State University Extension to help you be the best mentor you can be.

  1. Show up. Mentoring is about being there and spending time together. Make your visits a priority and when you can’t make it, take the time to call or write your mentee.
  2. Be in the moment. Put your phone and other technology away during your visits and ask your mentee to do the same. Mentors help young people learn how to interact in relationships. If you are constantly checking your phone, your mentee might think they are not important to you or it can send the message that it is OK to focus on technology rather than people.
  3. Listen more than you speak. From time to time your mentee may ask for advice, but more frequently young people are looking for someone who will listen. You can help by asking questions that will assist your mentee in considering a variety of options when they are faced with a decision.
  4. Be yourself – it’s the only way to build an authentic relationship.
  5. Try something that is new to you and your mentee. New things can be fun and a little scary. By sharing a new experience with your mentee, you are sharing a level of vulnerability.
  6. Laugh often.
  7. Include your mentee’s parents. Take the time to meet your mentee’s family. This can help parents feel comfortable with the relationship and open the door for future communication. If you mentor in a site-based program, you might be able to meet the parent when they pick their child up or you can make a phone call to introduce yourself.

Above all else, enjoy the mentoring experience. Mentoring programs screen potential volunteers and you were selected for a reason. 

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