Using technology to enhance mentoring relationships

Adults often worry about youth technology use and how it can negatively impact the quality of relationships. In an effort to find balance, this article discusses how mentoring relationships can be enhanced through the thoughtful use of technology.

A mentor happily pulls in to his mentee’s driveway to pick him up for a visit and is disappointed to find that no one is home. The mentor frequently leaves messages for her mentee on voicemail, but there is no return call. Can you relate? Many mentors experience frustrating lapses in communication at some point during their match. Often times this occurs because adults use communication methods that we prefer, rather than communicating with a young person using their preferred methods.

To better communicate with your mentee, find out what forms of communication he prefers. According to a Pew Internet study, 63 percent of teens report texting every day, compared to only 39 percent that talk on a cell phone daily, 29 percent who use social networking messaging daily and 19 percent who talk on a landline. The least used method of communication for young people is email, at only six percent. So, if you are reminding your mentee about visits through email, there is a good chance that the day of your visit could come and go before they actually check their email. This study tells us that for a majority of teens, text messaging is the most used method of communication. In 2011, 77 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds owned a cell phone. If your mentee is one of them, consider texting to confirm your plans and talk about upcoming outings.

Technology can also be used to enhance an already strong relationship. Mentors and mentees who connect between outings might feel closer. If you and your mentee text, consider sharing a picture of something fun from your day or a place you want to visit together on a future outing. It only takes a few seconds to type a text or send a picture and let your mentee know that you are thinking about them. Some matches choose to stay connected through social networks and this can be beneficial when done thoughtfully. An article from Michigan State University Extension, Should you “friend” your mentee on Facebook? can help you think through the decision of whether or not to connect with your mentee through social networks.

Everyone uses technology differently and technology is constantly changing. Talk to your mentee to find out what he is using and find a method that works for you both. If you are intimidated by texting, friending, messaging and all the other tech lingo, your mentee can probably take the lead and teach you. Mentees can develop better self-esteem from having the opportunity to be in the leadership or teaching role in a mentoring relationship. By asking questions, you communicate that you value your mentees knowledge, experience and opinions. You can also help your mentee learn how to use technology responsibly. Youth and Mobile Devices: Teaching Responsibility by Molly Frendo is a great article to review and share with your mentee.

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