Respect Your Mentee’s Rights
Respect Your Mentee’s Rights
Mentors should respect the privacy and confidence of their mentees (and families). The only exceptions are in cases of abuse, neglect, or endangerment. Mentees and parents may disclose personal information to volunteers. When sharing this information, they may ask you not to share it with the other person. For example, a parent may disclose information regarding their HIV status. This information may be valuable in mentoring, but the mentor must use caution when approaching the topic.
Confidentiality and Parental Concern
Often, mentees divulge private information that they don’t want their parents to know. A meaningful aspect for youth mentees is having a place to share private thoughts and feelings (Spencer, Jordan, & Sazama, 2004). Non-parent adults can serve as critical sounding boards for youth. This is especially true when youth explore their identities and experience new forms of conflicts with their parents (Allen, Moore, & Kuperminc, 1998). Consider this example.
Stephanie and Alice
Alice is a White 16-year-old living in a low-income neighborhood of L.A. She is involved in a mentorship program provided by her high school.
Stephanie is a White 46-year-old graduate student in social work at a local university. Stephanie and Alice were matched in a mentoring program.
During a recent conversation, Alice raised some questions about her gender identity with Stephanie. She indicated an interest in knowing more about the queer community and the possibility of using pronouns that align with her identity. While Alice had anxiety about sharing this information with Stephanie, she found the conversation to be helpful. However, Alice told Stephanie, “Please don’t tell my family any of this because they’d freak out.”
Alice’s mother, who she still lived with began noticing how Alice is changing her appearance and acting differently. Knowing that Alice and Stephanie had a good relationship, Alice’s mother asked Stephanie to share what she knows about these recent changes.
Remembering their previous conversation, Stephanie only told Alice’s mother that Alice is in a phase of questioning and cannot offer more details.
What is Problematic in This Scenario?
Knowing that Alice is not ready to share this information, Stephanie should not have told Alice’s mother about her gender questioning, even if she only offered vague information.
What Could Stephanie Do Differently?
In consultation with her match supervisor, Stephanie could suggest that Alice’s mother talk to Alice directly or offer to mediate the conversation between Alice and her mother if they are both willing.
Parents may feel betrayed if you keep sensitive information from them. However, violating the trust and privacy of your mentee could hurt the mentorship. It may even prevent them from sharing more serious information later.
Maintaining a balance between building trust and protecting the mentee from harm is a difficult task. As a mentor, you are obligated to report any suspicions of abuse or neglect. You must inform your mentee and family of this obligation. Yet, in less extreme cases, it may be challenging to determine if a situation constitutes neglect. In these cases, seek the guidance of the program staff.