Mentoring a Safer Way
By Marlene Bogard, Former Dove's Nest Speaker's Bureau Member, with 2021 Updates from Dove’s Nest Staff
Congregational mentoring programs are designed to nurture
a spiritual friendship—one youth to one adult. How does the mentoring relationship fit with some of the procedures that
Dove’s Nest suggests?
The “rule” that two adults be present at every event where there is youth or children's ministry may frustrate mentors as they plan times with their mentee. Also in question may be conversations or counseling within the mentor/mentee relationship conducted in isolation.
Here are some ideas that will reduce the risk of boundary violations, abuse, and accusations:
1. Host mentor/mentee gatherings in groups. All mentor pairs are invited to a time at the church or some other public setting where they will engage together in group activities. While there, they could break into pairs for discussion, sharing, and prayer.
2. Be at “public places” with your mentee. Avoid places where you are isolated. Overnight outings with just the two of you are off-limits. Public places include concerts, museums, fairs, sporting events, shops, and parks in daylight.
3. If your mentee comes to your home, another adult should be present, such as a spouse or adult friend. Keep your conversations and activities in full view of other family members, and do not sequester yourself in a different room and close the door.
4. Mentors—just like youth pastors and youth sponsors—should undergo training on appropriate language, boundaries, and touch. Those educated on these issues understand risk factors and will make better decisions about what is appropriate. Dove’s Nest is available to provide training and resources.
5. Consider your own motivation for being a mentor. Make sure you have the mentee's best interests in mind, and design your time together for healthy interaction. Remember, these guidelines are not intended to sabotage or shut down effective ministry; the goal is to keep relationships healthy, encourage appropriate boundary management, protect church workers from accusations, and protect the most vulnerable among us—children and youth—from any harm or possible misconduct and abuse.
6. Keep parents/guardians in the loop when you are with your mentee. Inform caregivers of the youth about pick-up and drop-off times, where you will be going, and how you will get there. If you are running late on the way to drop-off, you or the youth should alert them through a call or text. Some churches require mentors to keep a log of the activities they do with their mentees that includes where they went, what they did, and for how long. Don't ever consider the phrase “it is better to ask forgiveness than permission” with regards to informing parents/guardians.
7. Tread very carefully when it comes to communicating electronically with a mentee. Social media and phone technology is a boundary challenge, and ripe for violation. It can create situations in which adults push the boundaries, since there is less accountability and no one may be watching conversations unfold. However, due to COVID and current societal norms, we know that technological interaction is here to stay. Therefore, Dove’s Nest is committed to safety in this area and providing these updated general guidelines:
- It is advisable for all adults to seriously limit one-on-one electronic communication with children and youth unless it is logistical or procedural in nature.
- If a mentee initiates electronic communication, consider forming group chats and email threads with other mentee and mentor groups and/or copying parents/guardians.
- Communication should be traceable and never secretive. Focus on information sharing not emotional sharing in these settings.
- It is best practice not to “friend” the youth population you are volunteering with and to explain this to the youth if they want to “friend” you. This may, however, be different with a mentee; in this case, be sure to post only appropriate and public comments, and avoid any one-on-one messaging in apps.
- Never post a photo of your mentee on a social media platform without their consent and permission from their parent/guardian.
Healthy relationships, spiritual conversations, and trust are a big part of youth ministry and nurturing faith for youth and adults. Observing these guidelines and recommendations will help ensure mentoring programs safely provide these aspects of spiritual growth.