Why Your Mentoring Program Should Provide Training to Parents/Caregivers of Mentees

Posted by eporter on February 16, 2024

Why Your Mentoring Program Should Provide Training to Parents/Caregivers of Mentees

A common misconception about mentoring is that an impactful mentoring experience for a child consists solely of a supportive relationship between a mentor and a mentee. In truth, the model of successful mentoring is complex and consists of various interdependent relationships between the mentor, mentoring program staff, and parents or caregivers of the mentee, all working together to contribute to positive, impactful experiences for the mentee.1

Many mentoring programs report that while parents and caregivers of mentees are not directly involved in match activities or the mentoring relationship, they often play an important role behind the scenes.2 For example, caregivers may communicate with their child’s mentor to address concerns or let the mentor know if their child was upset or confused by their mentor’s actions. Research has shown that when parents or caregivers are involved in their child’s mentoring experience, such as by fostering relationships with program staff or their child’s mentor, their child may experience more positive outcomes.3,4 Though parents and caregivers play an influential part in the success of their child’s mentoring relationship, their role in mentoring is often overlooked. Many mentoring programs provide training and support to mentors and/or mentees in their program, but parents and caregivers of mentees often do not receive training or support. Below, we have outlined some reasons why your program should consider implementing high-quality training for parents or caregivers of mentees in your program, so you can promote mentoring relationships of the highest quality.

Getting on the Same Page

Research has shown that there are four main reasons for poor mentoring experiences: communication breakdowns, the misuse of power, inappropriate boundaries, and early or unexpected termination of the mentoring relationship.3,5 These problems often arise when mentors, mentees, or parents or caregivers have unclear expectations for mentoring, lack boundaries, or do not understand their role in the mentoring relationship. In order to prevent these challenges, mentors, mentees, and parents or caregivers should each receive high-quality training on the roles, boundaries, and expectations involved in mentoring before the mentoring relationship begins. Problems can arise when even one participant in the mentoring model is uninformed, so it is essential that mentors, mentees, and caregivers each receive adequate training. When all parties involved in the mentoring model understand their unique roles and responsibilities, each can successfully contribute their part to a holistic, positive mentoring experience for the mentee and prevent unintentionally contributing to mentoring relationship problems.

Establishing Appropriate Roles and Boundaries

At the beginning of a mentoring relationship, parents or caregivers of mentees may have worries or questions about mentoring. For example, caregivers may wonder, “Is my child’s mentor a safe person?”, “How can I support my child’s mentoring relationship?”, “What will my child do with their mentor?” or “Will my child’s mentor try to tell me what to do?” When parents or caregivers feel apprehensive about their child’s mentoring relationship, their child may notice this and also feel nervous about mentoring. Providing training to parents and caregivers on the roles and boundaries of mentors, mentees, and parents may ease caregivers’ anxiety, thereby preventing additional anxiety on the part of the mentee. Training on these topics may assure parents of their child’s safety and boost their confidence in their role as a parent or caregiver.

One important topic often included in both mentor and caregiver pre-match training is the clarification of a mentor’s role as distinct from parenting but additionally important. Positive mentoring outcomes often result when mentors and parents or caregivers understand that the mentor should not act as a surrogate parent and when mentors do not seem too closely aligned with the mentee’s parents from the perspective of the mentee. Knowledge of these distinct roles can help parents or caregivers encourage and support mentors in the appropriate ways.

Promoting Long-Lasting Relationships

If challenges that arise during the mentoring relationship are significant or recurring, the mentoring relationship is at risk for ending early or unexpectedly. Premature and sudden match endings can cause the mentee to feel abandoned or confused and may result in negative behavioral outcomes. One important way to prevent early relationship termination is to set realistic expectations for mentoring. If mentors, mentees, or caregivers have unrealistic expectations for the mentoring relationship, they may end up feeling dissatisfied, ultimately leading to relationship dissolution. Training can help parents or caregivers understand the probable challenges to, experiences involved in, and outcomes of mentoring, so they are less likely to become dissatisfied with their child’s mentoring or end their child’s mentoring relationship early.

Parents and caregivers can also set expectations for their child’s behavior when they are meeting with their mentor. When caregivers are knowledgeable about the roles of a mentee in a mentoring relationship, they can encourage their child to make decisions that support their mentoring relationship and promote positive outcomes.

In addition, when parents and caregivers have learned the benefits that mentoring can have for their child, they may feel more motivated to support and empower their child to participate in their mentoring relationship. Many children feel apprehensive about entering a mentoring relationship, but these feelings may dissolve if they see their parent or caregiver demonstrating confidence in the mentoring relationship. This, in turn, may motivate the mentee to participate fully in mentoring and contribute to more positive outcomes or prevent premature match endings.

Communicating Effectively

Miscommunication or lack of communication is a main contributor to mentoring challenges or failures. Training on effective communication between mentors, parents or caregivers, and mentoring program staff is a key strategy to prevent these challenges and can help unify mentors, parents, and staff towards a common goal: supporting the mentee. When parents or caregivers are trained to understand how to communicate effectively with their child’s mentor, they can create a supporting relationship with the mentor. For example, caregivers can assist with scheduling and planning match meetings, especially if match activities are occurring outside of a typical mentoring site. Doing so may help prevent match meetings and plans from falling through, which can leave the mentee feeling abandoned and upset.

In addition, parents and caregivers are often able to gauge mentees’ feelings or talk with their child outside of match meetings. When important and relevant, caregivers can relay this information to the mentor for the betterment of the relationship. For example, if a parent is aware that their child feels worried about a stressful event coming up, they may communicate this to their child’s mentor so the mentor can be proactive and aware of their mentee’s needs. By receiving training on the importance of communication in mentoring, caregivers may also feel comfortable asking questions and addressing concerns that arise throughout the mentoring relationship with their child’s mentor and program staff. Overall, communication between the mentor, program staff, and parent can promote the child’s safety and wellbeing.

Preventing the Misuse of Power

Another common problem in mentoring occurs when mentors misuse their power to achieve goals that may stunt their mentee’s growth. For example, a mentor may use their position as a mentor to convert their mentee to a different religion or persuade their mentee to adopt their own values. Sometimes, mentors can misuse their power unintentionally or without meaning harm because they are unaware of mentoring roles, boundaries, and ethical practices. The primary strategy for preventing misuse of power is providing mentors with pre-match training, but providing training to parents and caregivers is another important way to support this goal.

Once trained on the roles and boundaries of mentors, parents or caregivers may be better equipped to notice signs that their child’s mentor is misusing their power. In addition, by understanding the importance of communication between mentors and caregivers, they may choose to educate their child’s mentor on their child’s and family’s values. When caregivers communicate their family and parenting values to their child’s mentor, to the extent that they feel comfortable, the mentor gains a better understanding of how to respect those values and prevent undermining them. With insight from caregivers, mentors can better interpret their mentee’s behaviors and incorporate their mentee’s values in their match activities or conversations. This may help the mentee feel respected, understood, and valued, which can contribute to stronger mentoring relationships.

If you are ready to start offering pre-match training to parents and caregivers of mentees in your program, consider using Mentoring Central’s Building the Foundation for Parents course.

  1. Keller, T. E. (2005). A Systemic Model of the Youth Mentoring Intervention. Journal of Primary Prevention, 26: 169-188.
  2. Spencer, R., Basualdo-Delmonico, A. and Lewis, T.O. (2011), Working to make it work: the role of parents in the youth mentoring process. Journal of Community Psychology, 39: 51-59.
  3. Grossman, J. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring programs. American Journal of Community Psychology, 3: 199-219.
  4. DuBois, D. L., Holloway, B. E., Valentine, J. C., & Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of mentoring programs: A meta-analytical review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30: 157-197.
  5. Kalbfleisch, P.J. (2002). Communicating in mentoring relationships: A theory for enactment. Communication Theory, 12: 63-69.