What makes a good mentor?

23 April 2015

Ben writes…

I've been sorting through my files and have found all sorts of long-forgotten nuggets, one of which was a note from a few years ago based on a conversation I’d had with three 15-year-old girls about mentoring.

Their school had set them up with mentors, but they didn’t rate them at all. As mentoring is central to the work we do with young people, I was keen to find out what they thought made a good mentor. Here’s what they said, based on their own experiences:

1. Help us with our problems at school (advocacy)

2. Remember our birthdays and write a personal message in a card for us

3. Don’t tell us about your personal issues (like you splitting up with your girlfriend) and don’t ask us about ours

4. Learn about and appreciate the music we listen to

5. Make an effort to get to know us – be friendly not snobby

6. Prepare for the sessions you have with us

7. Take us out somewhere

They also said:

‘The point is to make us feel comfortable so that we can talk about whatever we want to’

‘Young people want to be appreciated by adults not judged’

‘We want to feel supported’

‘Adults can learn from young people too!’

What came across was that they felt patronised by their mentors. It’s really easy to appear patronising when talking young people or to be overly intrusive in our questioning. My experience of mentoring here at Urban Hope over the years has taught me that young people are looking for down-to-earth, trustworthy adults who don't bring too much of their own agenda to the conversation.

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