Posted by eporter on July 31, 2023
One of the most challenging parts of being a mentor to a child or teenager is jointly planning activities to do together. Breaking the adult-child decision-making paradigm of adults making all of the decisions is critical to establishing an effective mentoring relationship. One area to regularly practice sharing power with a mentee is in making decisions together about how to spend mentoring meetings. Mentors should ask mentees which mentoring activities are the most engaging, feasible, and beneficial for them.
Mentors often approach mentoring program staff with many questions and concerns about how to spend time with their mentees. When checking in with mentors, program staff might often hear mentors say things like, “I’m not sure what would be most helpful to do with my mentee. What should we do together?” or “My mentee seems bored during our meetings. How can I keep them engaged?” It can be difficult for mentoring program staff to answers these questions and guide mentors in proposing activities to do with their mentees that can help them achieve positive outcomes. The mentoring activities each match should consider doing together can vary greatly depending upon the mentee’s age, interests, previous experiences, and abilities. In addition, activities and outings can be costly for mentors, and matches may be limited to completing activities in certain locations or formats, such as at school or via video chats, to limit their cost, the distance to do them, or the time it takes to complete them. For these reasons and more, mentors often receive vague advice and limited support to address this challenge.
So, how can your program provide better advice to mentors to help them determine which mentoring activities to do with their mentees to foster long-lasting, impactful mentoring relationships and positive youth outcomes? We have outlined some guidelines and recommendations to help.
When thoughtfully planned, mentoring activities can strengthen mentoring relationships and provide invaluable experiences for mentees. Research has shown that youth find match activities engaging and effective when the activities are relevant to the match’s needs, goal-directed, varying in nature, and collaborative. Thus, when staff and mentors consider each of these characteristics when planning mentoring activities, the match meetings will likely be more successful.
Research has shown that certain types of mentoring activities can help mentees feel closer to their mentor and reduce obstacles to the mentoring relationship, which can, in turn, foster positive outcomes for the mentee. However, in order for mentoring activities to be impactful, they must be relevant to the mentee’s needs, abilities, and interests.
Mentors should consider their mentee’s age and abilities to determine developmentally appropriate activities to do with their mentee, and ensure that they are able to fully participate in the activity. In addition, mentors should ask their mentee about their interests, hobbies, and favorite things to do. When mentors organize mentoring activities with their mentee that are interesting to their mentee, then the mentee may be more likely to participate, be engaged during match meetings, and feel satisfied with their mentoring experiences.
In addition, when providing mentors with advice or examples of mentoring activities to plan, mentoring program staff should consider the cost of activities for participants. Mentors should be reminded that mentoring activities do not need to be expensive or elaborate to be impactful or fun for mentees.
Before determining what to do with their mentee, mentors should have a discussion with their mentee to set goals and determine what they hope to get out of the mentoring relationship. For example, mentees may hope to have more friends, raise their grades, or focus on getting into college. Mentoring Central’s Building and Maintaining the Relationship training course contains several lessons that teach mentors how to help their mentee identify and set goals for themselves.
Once the match has set goals for the mentee, mentors should organize activities that align with these goals to help their mentees achieve positive outcomes. Research has shown that goal-directed activities can positively impact behavior, grades, and school attendance. Mentoring Central will soon release the new Building Assets Together Guide for mentors, which will feature a list of various goal-directed activities for matches to do together, so mentees can stay on track to meet their goals and build valuable skills applicable to their unique wants and needs.
A challenging part of planning impactful experiences and activities for mentees is determining how to balance fun, conversation, and learning. Playful, conversational, and instructional interactions between mentors and mentees each have unique benefits to the mentee and mentoring relationship, so it can be difficult to determine which types of interactions to engage in. Playing games and participating in fun activities may keep the mentee engaged and feeling positively about their mentoring experiences, but having serious discussions about the mentee’s needs and emotions may result in a stronger match connection and help mentees cope with stressful events in their life. In addition, instructional activities may facilitate mentee learning and have positive impacts on the mentee’s academic performance.
Research has shown that a mix of playful, conversational, and instructional activities will have the greatest positive impact on mentee outcomes, so it is important for matches to participate in a variety of activities during match meetings, incorporating elements of play, learning, and conversation.
Mentoring relationships are a partnership, not a one-way street, so mentoring activities should involve collaboration between the mentor and mentee. As mentioned previously, when organizing activities for match meetings, mentors could forget to include their mentee in the decision-making process. Relationship closeness and mentee satisfaction may be at risk if mentors do not consider mentees’ desires for their mentoring relationship or the types of activities the match does together. Mentors should ask their mentee what they would like to do together and what their interests are so mentees feel included in the decision-making process and mentors can tailor activities to the mentee’s specific wants and needs.
While completing activities, mentors and mentees should share a common goal. When matches work together, mentees feel validated, empowered, and invested in a meaningful relationship. Collaboration in mentoring activities may look like working together to win a game or having open conversations in which the mentee’s needs and opinions are addressed and valued. Research has shown that shared decision-making and collaboration fosters youth development and growth as well as facilitates learning, relationships, and individual, family, and community development.
Providing training to mentors and mentees before and during the mentoring relationship can help matches understand what mentoring activities should be like. Many mentees feel nervous when they begin their mentoring relationship because they do not know what they might do with their mentor. Providing training to mentees, such as Mentoring Central’s Building the Foundation for Mentees instructor-led training workshop, can help mentees understand what types of activities they may do with their mentor. Learning more about mentoring and things they might do with their mentor can help to ease any anxiety or worries they may have about spending time with a new adult.
In addition, providing training to mentors can help them feel better prepared to mentor, motivate them to engage in impactful mentoring interactions with their mentee, and provide them with ideas about what types of activities to organize. Research has shown that mentor training can foster more collaborative matches by helping mentors plan mentoring activities. Mentoring Central’s Building and Maintaining the Relationship mentor training course provides guidance about determining what types of activities to do, balancing talk and play during activities, determining what mentees may want to do during meetings, and making activities enjoyable for the match. In addition, Mentoring Central’s Ethics and Safety training course provides mentors with information about how to remain safe and ethical during activities and interactions with their mentees.
Mentoring program staff should schedule regular check-in meetings with matches to assess how the mentoring relationship is going. During these meetings, staff should ask mentors and mentees what types of activities they are doing together to assess if matches are engaging in safe, impactful interactions. Check-in meetings are a good time to provide mentors with advice or resources if they are struggling to organize activities for their match meetings.
Mentors appreciate when mentoring program staff provide resources and opportunities for mentoring activities. Your program might consider providing mentors with monthly calendars of low-cost events for matches to attend, lists of suggested activities for matches to do together, or locations of local parks and fun places to visit. Your program might consider hosting group activities for mentors, mentees, and mentees’ families to provide opportunities for families to be involved in the mentoring experience. Group activities may also enhance the relationships of volunteer mentors and program staff, which may improve mentee satisfaction and volunteer retention. Many mentoring programs host graduations and match-ending events to celebrate and honor matches at the end of mentoring relationship.
These guidelines can help mentors plan mentoring activities that provide opportunities for mentees to work towards their goals, build a meaningful relationship with their mentor, feel validated and empowered, and have fun. Subscribe to the Mentoring Central newsletter to receive regular updates on resources and trainings to help you and your volunteer mentors plan mentoring activities that help mentees achieve their goals.