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Be Trustworthy and Responsible

This principle is rooted in the ethical notion of fidelity, or “behaving in a trustworthy manner and keeping one’s promise or word” (Strom-Gottfried, 2008, p. 21).


Trust is a cornerstone of effective mentorships (Sipe, 1996).

This involves being aware of your obligation to maintain consistency. Meeting frequency and duration should always be consistent. Plan and notify your mentee of any deviation in advance. Let’s look at the example below involving Andy and his mentor Steve.


Andy is a white 7-year-old boy involved in the community center’s youth mentoring program. His mother is a single mother. He does not have a strong male influence in his life outside of school. Steve has been assigned as his mentor. Every Saturday for the last six weeks, Steve and Andy have played basketball at the community center. They usually play basketball for an hour after lunch.

As you are introducing yourself, extend your hand to shake theirs. Handshakes should be slow and firm, but don’t grip too tightly.Steve, a 40-year old high school PE coach, has been teaching Andy to dribble and maneuver the ball “like the pros.” Andy enjoys this one-on-one time with his mentor. 

At the end of their last session, Steve lifted Andy to his shoulders so Andy could score a “slam dunk.” Andy says that Steve is his “new best friend” and looks forward to their Saturday afternoon sessions every week.

This Saturday, Steve twisted his ankle and decided to stay at home for the weekend to heal. Given that there are other mentors in the mentoring program, he was not concerned that Andy would be left alone, and he planned to explain to Andy when they meet next week. The center director tells Andy’s mom that he didn’t call and didn’t answer the phone when they tried to reach him. “Andy has been sitting in that seat all afternoon waiting for Steve to show up,” the director tells Andy’s Mom. 

What is Problematic in This Scenario?

Although Steve has plans to explain to Andy, his family, and the program, he did not do so promptly. As nobody knew what was going on with Steve, they could not explain to Andy about Steve’s absence. This could have led to Andy thinking the worst – that perhaps Steve was no longer interested in mentoring Andy. Consequently, this could have caused Andy to become upset and could influence his motivation to stay in the program in the future.


How Can it be Corrected?

Steve should have called the center director or match support to explain why he would be out for that week. If possible, Steve should have spoken to Andy directly to explain why he had to miss mentoring that day, providing a model of effective, trustworthy, and consistent communication for Andy. Furthermore, Steve could have worked with the match support to brainstorm creative ways to support his mentee in this situation, such as doing a phone call with Andy or asking Andy to film a few basketball moves to send to Steve. 

Terminating the Relationship

Sadly as many as half of the volunteer mentorships end prematurely. Most end at the volunteer’s request (Rhodes, 2002). While some premature endings are unavoidable (e.g., the mentor is abruptly relocated for work.), the mentee should receive an explanation and appropriate notice before the relationship terminates. All too often, mentorships come to a close unexpectedly. The mentor quits the program and fails to notify the mentee or the program.

Early termination poses a potential for harm. It can negatively affect a youth’s ability to function. Mentors must be mindful of changes in the relationship. Last-minute changes or cancellations can be crushing to a mentee. Even minor disappointments can accumulate in ways that erode trust and closeness. These setbacks lead to feelings of hurt and resentment for the youth and their family.

Dealing With Disappointments

Mentees aren’t the only ones that face frustrations in mentorships. When imagined rewards are not realized or take a different form, mentors may decide that the relationship is not what they had bargained for and end the match. They may feel shame at their perceived failures and choose to avoid the situation rather than honestly confront it.

Volunteers frequently experience success and mastery in their professional or academic lives. In contrast, the lives of vulnerable youth are often chaotic. Volunteers may experience a sense of helplessness or despair when confronted with that chaos (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996). Instead of reaching out for help, they may choose to avoid or withdraw from the program. They may think the child does not need them. They may use excuses like lack of time. They may even suggest the child would be better off with a different mentor. 

As a mentor, you should be mindful of the familiar and predictable challenges in a mentorship. When minor issues arise, you should reach out for assistance. Do not allow them to develop into something bigger. 

Let’s take a look at a mentoring scenario where the mentor, Jake, had to deal with his own disappointment.

If you are unable to play the video above, you can download the text version below.

Jake ended the relationship without telling Joey. When Joey found out, he was hurt. Ending or transferring a mentorship requires planning. In an ideal situation, families receive notice before a mentorship ends. They understand why the relationship is ending. The transition occurs naturally over a long period. Even when the transition is not planned, families deserve an explanation.

Steps to Terminating a Mentorship

Step 1

Start Ending at the Beginning

Set the expectation from the start. Let the mentee and their family know when the relationship will end. Doing this introduces termination as a normal part of mentoring. It prevents mentees from expecting a forever relationship.

Step 2

Plan the When and How

Create clear expectations of when the relationship will end. Set a specific date if possible. Let the mentee and their family know how the relationship will close. Will there be a celebration event? If so, tell the family in the beginning so they have something to look forward to.

Step 3

Check in Regularly

Frequent contact with your mentee is a part of mentoring. However, you should check in with their family regularly too. Find out how they are doing, and make sure the mentorship is on the right track. Remind them of what to expect in the next stage of the relationship. If the relationship is nearing the end, plan the transition with everyone involved.

Step 4

Plan Closure Activities

If your program has a set procedure, explain it to the family. If not, plan a special outing or event to close the relationship. If the relationship is goal-based, celebrate the achievement of the goal. In any case, plan something to signify the end of the relationship formally.


Step 5

Conduct an Exit Interview

An exit interview provides you with valuable feedback. It provides the family time to tell you how they feel. Ask them what they liked best about the relationship. Make sure you ask them what they would do differently, too. You can use that feedback to guide your next mentorship. It also provides a clear end to the relationship.

Step 6

Set Clear Guidelines for Post-Program Contact

Who should the family contact if they need help in the future? A promise to “keep in touch” is often unintentionally broken. Instead, set clear guidelines for whom the family should contact in the future.