Decision Making - Respecting Boundaries

Decision Making

You and your mentee will be faced with many decisions and opportunities. Here, you’ll find guidance on how to make child-focused, ethical decisions in different mentoring situations.


Boundaries, in the context of Big Brother Big Sisters, can be defined as guidelines that facilitate the development of safe and respectful mentoring relationships. Boundaries come in many forms, including physical, emotional, and social; and are central to ensuring a healthy, respectful and child-focused match.

Decision-Making Scenarios

Scenario 5: You and your mentee have been matched for two years and have grown very close. Being an affectionate person, you sometimes feel the urge to give your mentee a hug when dropping them off at the end of your outings, but wonder if it’s appropriate. What things should you take into consideration? What other ways can you show affection?

With regard to physical contact, for example hugs, with your mentee, consider that:

  • Agencies and programs will have guidelines or restrictions around physical contact. Check with your program staff.
  • Children and youth, as with all of us, have varying levels of comfort with being touched. It is usually best, through words or observations, to let them dictate what they are comfortable with.
  • Physical contact with your mentee could be interpreted in a negative way by them or others. Use your judgment and when in doubt, err on the side of caution.

There are a number of other ways that you can show affection to your mentee:

  • Tell them how much you enjoy spending time together.
  • Take them on an extra special outing.
  • Make them a card or a cd of their favourite music.
  • Give each other a high five when they’ve accomplished something.
  • Small gestures such as these will make them feel special!

Scenario 6: We bring in another hiring scenario, as this does arise, particularly in smaller communities. You are a manager at a clothing store and are hiring students for the summer. You know your teenage mentee would be a perfect fit, and they are looking for a summer job. What might be the implications of hiring them? How else might you be able to help them?

Before thinking of hiring your mentee, consider that:
  • A mentor’s role is to be a friend and role model - not a manager.
  • Hiring your mentee could have a significant impact on your friendship, especially if things do not go well.
  • Hiring your mentee may go against agency guidelines.

There are a number of other ways you can help your mentee find a job:

  • Help them create or improve their resume.
  • Help them with their job search.
  • Refer them to people who are looking for employees.
  • Take them to stores to drop off applications.
  • Help them prepare for an interview.
  • Encourage them and provide advice as they search.

Scenario 7: You frequently find yourself talking to your Little Brother or Little Sister’s parent or guardian about personal issues such as his or her divorce, job, or financial situation. You feel that you need to help because if you don’t, nobody else will.

If you are faced with this situation, keep in mind that:
  • Your role as a mentor does not make you an expert in counseling.
  • Your first responsibility is to your mentee. Spending too much time with the parent may make your mentee feel uncomfortable or think that you’re not there for them.
  • Dealing with the issues of the parent or guardian at the same time as mentoring the child may lead you to feel overwhelmed, decreasing your satisfaction with the match.

There are a number of other courses of action you could take in lieu of being a confidant for the parent or guardian:

  • Let them know that while you sympathize with their situation, you want to make sure to devote your attention to the child.
  • Seek the advice of your program staff.
  • Encourage the parent or guardian to contact the agency and speak to the program staff. Staff can provide referrals or advocate for services on the family's behalf. Staff can remind the parent or guardian of the important role they play in the match - as a champion and advocate for, and supporter of, their child. Staff can also remind the parent or guardian about the roles, responsibilities and boundaries of the volunteer mentor.

It is also especially important when faced with this situation to remind your mentee that you are there for them first and foremost.

Key Points to Remember

  • With regard to physical contact, err on the side of caution. Use other creative ways to show your affection, and let your Little Sister or Little Brother decide what they are comfortable with.
  • Avoid taking on roles outside the bounds of mentoring. While you may be well-meaning, taking on additional roles such as that of a manager, coach or tutor can detract from your main role - that of a friend and role model.
  • It’s important to set boundaries with the parents or guardians as well. While having a good relationship with your mentee’s parent or guardian can often help facilitate a strong match, crossing over into the role of advisor or confidant to a parent or guardian can cause your mentee to become uncomfortable or even resentful.