When Mentoring Goes Wrong

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When Mentoring Goes Wrong by Jessica LaShawn

3 Tips For Mentor Therapy

Being a mentor is hard. You’re an alternate parent to a young person. You’re there to fill in the gaps where the progenitor may need assistance, due to a lack of resources, time and familiarity. As the founder of an educational program called Mogul Academy, which serves urban youth through flash and digital mentoring, I see the “ins and outs” of the mentoring service continuously. The one question I get from individuals that are afraid to commit is, “How do I end the relationship if we aren’t compatible?”

I’ve served as a mentor for the majority of my life. I was mentoring my peers and went on to mentor people younger and older than me. My passion allowed me to see potential in everyone I met, and sometimes I overlooked red flags that eventually forced me to throw in the towel. No one ever sat me down and showed me how to stop mentoring a child. While working with the Chicago Public School System, Indiana State University, After School Matters and more, the subject of ending a professional relationship with a young person because there is an obvious personality clash has never come up. We are to assume that, as adults, it is our job to navigate around that. But how can you help someone and/or serve them if you aren’t able to connect with them?

One of the fundamental elements of being a beneficial mentor is your ability to engage and bond with your mentee. While visiting classrooms and talking to students frequently, I hear about the neglect factor. Students know when they are being neglected, and it forces them to be callous towards adults and anyone that appears to be there to help them. You can say this is popular amongst the bad kids, but I’ve seen brilliant youth sidelined because of their superior intelligence as well.

Within the educational realm, we are missing the mark. We have failed to understand the importance of compatibility for success. We find it to be necessary for other relationships, but not the ones that are strategically in place to help us grow into a better person. I do understand the value of individual growth and emotional/communicative development that surfaces when you are challenged by others, yet, I doubt that aids in retention of knowledge, independent thought development and self-awareness as much as having a teacher that “gets you.” That is why I treat mentoring like a matchmaker service within my program. I find people that my young people can relate to in order to avoid “the talk.”

I have three tips for mentor therapy before calling it quits with a student/mentee.

1. Talk About Why You Committed To Them As a Mentor

This is your opportunity to tell them what you saw in them and for them to share their strong, soft and hard skills. Share why you were originally impressed by them. We, as humans, rarely hear what we do good and what we naturally succeed at enough. We are constantly looking for outside validation. Take the time to make them aware of why you wanted to mentor them and how you thought you could help them.

2. Share Your Story

Talk about your experience with mentorship, what you gained from it and what you wish you had. This will allow the student to get a different viewpoint on the purpose of mentoring. It will also allow them to see you in a more normal capacity and not just a person they were told they should look up to.

3. Fill In The Gaps

Having a mentor is hard. It’s like being adopted by someone and feeling pressured to get to know them and impress. We often look at mentoring from the mentor’s perspective and rarely from the mentees viewpoint. Ask how the student feels about being mentored. Do they know what it means? What are their expectations? What are they looking for and what do they need? We, as mentors, often step up to the plate and expect kids to have their lives mapped out, only needing us to help them call the plays. Sometimes these kids have no clue they are even in a game. Fill in the gaps and see where they are and where they are coming from. Find a game plan to get them to where they may need to be.

The word mentor is defined as someone who is an adviser and trains people. That definition leaves out the personal connection necessary to have whatever it is that you are teaching them to register. The moment we view mentoring as a softer version of parenting, the sooner we will see its real value and purpose. We never stop learning. You are shaping the future, the reality and the legacy, of each and every one of your mentees. You do the same thing with your friends, coworkers, family and associates. Make mentoring more personal and about connection before prerequisites.

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