Sharing private thoughts and feelings is a common aspect of mentoring relationships, and providing a sympathetic ear to your mentee can be very meaningful. It is important to be aware, however, that serving as a confidant to your mentee can sometimes lead to difficult decisions on what should be kept confidential and what should be disclosed to the parent or guardian, program staff or authorities. As the trust develops between the two of you, so does the likelihood of sharing more personal information.
Situation 10: Your mentee tells you they have a secret and asks you to promise you will not tell anyone. How do you handle the situation?
Secrets, as we all know, can vary from the extremely innocent to the extremely serious. Surprises may have a place in mentoring relationships, but secrets with regard to abuse, drug use, criminal activity or other serious things that have the potential to be harmful to your mentee or others, do not.
When approached with a secret by your mentee, especially if you suspect they may have something important to reveal, it’s important to let them know that you are there to listen, but that you may not be able to keep the secret, depending on what they say. In fact, depending on the type of information divulged, such as abuse, or situations pertaining to their own or someone else’s well-being, you may be required by law to report the information. Remember to consult your agency program staff, even if you’re pretty sure you’ve dealt well with the situation – they have extensive knowledge on issues related to the disclosure of information.
Situation 11: Your friends and family show a genuine interest in your mentee and often ask you questions about their background. What types of information do you feel would be appropriate to disclose? What types would not be appropriate?
It’s important to remember that mentoring is a four-way partnership among yourself, your mentee, their parents or guardians and your agency program staff. In site-based programs, your school liaison is also an important member of the match. While it is normal for those who care about you to take an interest in your mentee, you should take care not to discuss information that can lead to their identification or that provides details about their personal lives. Rather than sharing personal information, talk about some of the fun activities you do together. Perhaps share with them the benefits you gain from being a mentor – they may want to consider mentoring as well!