Course to Focus on Mentoring in the Digital Age

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Photo by canuzuner / iStock / Thinkstock

Social media has forever altered the landscape of communications between adult mentors and their young mentees.


With the increase in digital communications between mentors and mentees, mentoring programs have adopted widely varying responses.

Some programs have banned digital communications between mentors and mentees altogether, while other programs have not monitored communications via Facebook, texting, Twitter, Instagram and other forms of social media.

Jean Rhodes, director of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said cutting off all digital communications between mentors and mentees would be a mistake.

“That’s how young people communicate, and if you shut it all down, you’re potentially shutting down important opportunities for closeness and communication,” Rhodes told Youth Today.

How mentoring programs should respond to the rise in digital communications will be the subject of a daylong course, “Youth Mentoring in the Digital Age,” on Jan. 29 in Arlington, Va.

(The course will be followed by the two-day National Mentoring Summit, also in Arlington.)

A key goal of the course, co-sponsored by the center and the Boston-based MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, is to come up with ethical guidelines for use of social media by mentoring programs.

Rhodes noted the 2009 Ethical Guidelines for Youth Mentoring contain no reference to social media.

“What we’ve noticed recently if you talk to people [in mentoring programs] is that the biggest ethical issues that are arising center around the use of social media,” Rhodes said. “Programs have had really no guidance on how to manage those relationships.

“There’s just so many ways in which mentors and mentees can communicate under the radar in a way. That’s where we are hoping that we can provide ethical guidance.”

For example, should a mentor report seeing a young mentee holding a beer in an online posting?

Rhodes said inappropriate content like explicit photographs or photos that appear to show drug abuse should be reported to a mentor’s case manager.

But in cases that fall into a gray area – for example, a non-explicit photo that shows the physical location of the mentee – mentors have to realize reporting the communication could end their relationship with a mentee.

“Obviously, the minute you report your mentee, you’ve kind of closed off that relationship because the trust is now violated,” Rhodes said.

Experts, including authors of books on adolescents and social media and psychologists who have worked with adolescents, will speak at the daylong digital mentoring event. And the results of a digital mentoring survey of mentors in the United States, Ireland and Canada will be presented.

“I don’t want to sound like I think social media is a threat,” Rhodes said. “I think it is tremendously helpful in connecting adults and youth … Its potential in inter-generational relationships is only beginning to be tapped.”

(Videos of the keynote speakers and a distance-learning course based on the daylong course will be posted online in March at this website.)