Mentoring – Part 6: Setting boundaries

Successful mentoring relationships are linked to positive youth outcomes. Explore tips for setting boundaries with mentees.

What should I share? What shouldn’t I share? Is it okay to hug my mentee? These are some of the many boundary-related questions that mentors have when forming a relationship with their mentee. Some boundaries are set by the program, but many are decided on by the mentor, mentee and parent. Michigan State University Extension recently released “Ready to Go: Mentor Training Tool Kit” which provides 56 activities that mentoring programs can use in training to assist mentoring programs in building mentor skills.

In Module Two: Setting Boundaries, we share some tips for setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in mentoring relationships:

  1. Think about the boundaries you want to set early. It is easier to set boundaries when you are prepared. For example, if you know ahead of time that you will not allow your mentee’s friends to join you on an outing, you will be ready to respond if he asks to bring a friend along.
  2. Talk to your mentee about boundaries. It is important to share your boundaries with each other and agree to be respectful of each other.
  3. Model healthy boundaries. Young people learn how to set boundaries while watching others. Let your mentee see you firmly and kindly set boundaries. For example, many mentors set a boundary that they will not give or loan money to the mentee. If this is your boundary and your mentee asks for money for lunch, you might remind him that you are not comfortable lending money, but offer to pick up a sandwich for lunch if you are worried that she is hungry.
  4. Be consistent. Young people need boundaries to feel safe and understand social expectations. If you are not consistent, it can be confusing and uncomfortable.
  5. Do not judge. For instance, a young person may use language that the mentor finds offensive. Mentors need to remember that sometimes such language has been learned in the home. Instead of labeling the language and those who use it as “bad,” mentors should address how they are uncomfortable with that language and ask that mentees not use it during their time together.
  6. Help your mentee navigate social and professional expectations. There are a lot of unwritten rules or boundaries and mentors can play an important role in helping young people learn about these expectations.

Mentoring is a process and not a destination. Enjoy the process and seek support from program staff when needed. You are sure to make a difference in the life of a young person and you will probably experience more benefits than you can imagine. For more mentoring tips, see these articles and the Mentoring section of the MSU Extension website:

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