Tips Tools and Recommendations

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Dustianne North, M.S.W. | Bay Area Symposium | Mentoring Relationships and Social Media | September 2012

Tips, Tools and Recommendations

Strong Boundaries in the mentoring relationship:

Maintain strong boundaries with mentees when interacting online, as they can become blurred in a virtual world. In particular, mentors need to be careful about disclosing private aspects of their lives to mentees through social media. Some practical ways to do this include:

Consider having a secondary profile (on Facebook, etc) that is appropriate for you to connect with mentees, while keeping your primary account for personal connections in your private life.

If mentors choose to connect with mentees on social networking, privacy settings can be modified so that mentees cannot see photos, posts and status updates in which mentor is tagged.

If mentors want to keep their private profiles unviewable by mentees, consider choosing privacy settings that prevent anyone but friends or friends of friends from viewing your profile picture, and ensuring only friends can send messages or friend requests.

Be mindful that mentees parents/guardians may also be monitoring your public profile. If they view something on the mentors page that leads them to question the mentors judgment, it can jeopardize the mentee-mentor relationship, and the youths participation in the mentoring program.

Consider not only your own postings, but postings of friends that may be visible publicly, to the mentee or mentees family.

Promoting Privacy and Safety:

Mentor programs may also promote privacy and safety in online forums they create:

Create private group pages on social networking sites that only invited members can join or view, protecting the privacy of those in the group.

Scrutinize friend requests. Review the profiles of people or groups who ask to list your program as a friend. You can decline the request of a would-be friend if there is inappropriate material on the groups site, it would not be a good fit for the network, or it otherwise would reflect poorly on your program.

Mentoring organizations might be more apt to use a Facebook fan page, blog, or YouTube channel to share news, photos, and videos rather than sharing personal profiles with mentees.

Mentors can assist and advise mentees about how to protect their own privacy and boundaries online, and online relationships may offer mentors a way to know more about what is happening in their mentees lives:

Mentors should be aware of whether mentees are spending too much time online and/or participating in inappropriate chat rooms.

Mentees may need to be reminded that once they post photos of themselves or spread gossip about others in cyberspace, there is no way to take it back, and serious repercussions can follow them for many years. Keep in mind that that if a mentor sees something on a mentees page that indicates the youth may be in danger of harming themselves or others, the mentor is responsible for reporting it to the appropriate authorities or parents/guardians.

Discuss the importance of keeping passwords private. 30% of online teens, especially teen girls, report sharing their password with a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend.

Supplement parents advice to their teens to encourage teens to be safe and private online.

Ways to communicate with teens online: [footnoteRef:1] [1: Lenhart, A. (2012). Teens, Smartphones & Texting. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Pew Research Center. Washington, DC. Retrieved from]

77% of teens own cell phones

One in four teens own smartphones

Most teens are texting 60-100 times per day, so texting is the most common form of daily communication for teens with everyone in their lives.

20% of teens say they dont or cannot talk on a landline.

29% of teens communicate daily through messages on social network sites instead of emailing. 39% of teens say they never exchange email.

Social media may be an effective way to reach homeless youth, as an estimated 75% of homeless youth are actively using social media.

Previous discussions on this topic have also suggested that foster youth stay in touch online when their placements and circumstances unexpectedly change, and even when they drop out of the system and go underground. [footnoteRef:2] [2: Creedon, A. (2012). 75 Percent of Homeless Youth Use Social Media, Study Indicates. Nonprofit Quarterly, Sept 7, 2012. Retrieved from]

Therefore, there are many methods of communicating electronically.

Mentors can and should ask mentees what methods of communication are best for reaching them and connecting with them.

While speaking face-to-face is best, it can be beneficial to make initial plans or simply be available by the methods that teens use most.

Effective mentor-mentee social media communication:

Regular, face-to-face interaction is often most effective, but bonds between mentor and mentee can be nurtured by connecting online.

Sending e-mails or text messages should not become a substitute for face-to-face social interaction, and mentors can be very helpful in assisting mentees with basic social and communication skills.

Mentors should consider their role and influence on youth when connecting through social networking

Beclear in your writing

When communicating online with mentee, make sureyouareclear in your writingas youdonothavebody language or tone of voicetohelpexpress what youmean. Beconciseandclearin your writing,andmake sureyouclarify when appropriate. Emoticons can be a fun way to remedy this problem, but be careful as these still do not substitute for face-to-face communication.

Maintain professionalism

Youcan maintain professionalism by making sure to proofread your writing, as hasty emails showlackof timeor effort by thementor.

Keep records of your communications, which will help you keep track of your mentoring relationships progress, and serve as a reference when needed.

Always reply

Reply as promptly as possible when you receive communication from your mentee. If you are pressed for time, send a short message saying you are presently busy but you will make time to reply as soon as you can.

Do not engage in conflict with mentee online. If there are issues in the relationship that need to be addressed, it is best to address them in person, as it is too easy for words to be misconstrued when a difficult topic is being discussed electronically.

Do not multi-task when communicating with your mentee, even though they cannot see you when you are typing or writing. Be mindful of your responses by focusing on one thing at a time: your mentee.

Keep in mind that electronic messages do not include the nonverbal cues present in face-to-face communication, so the intended message can be misinterpreted by the reader. [footnoteRef:3] [3: DO-IT, University of Washington. (2002-2012). What are tips for making online mentoring successful? University of Washington. Seattle, WA. Retrieved from]

Start a message with a friendly greeting ("Hello," "Hi," "Dear [name]," etc.).

Place at the end of a sentence to tell recipients that your comment is meant to be humorous, or insert other appropriate "emoticons" to take the place of facial expressions or gestures.

Rarely use all capital letters in a message. Capitalizing all letters in one word infers strong emphasis, but capitalizing all letters in an entire message is like yelling at someone in person.

Read through a mentees entire message carefully and ask questions about anything you don't understand, before composing your reply.

Assisting Youth via Online Resources and Interactions:

Sometimes, explain why you communicated a particular message using a particular media in a particular waymodel for youth, and teach them, how to effectively use online communication and when not to.

Share websites you think your mentee might find helpful or interesting.

Combatting Bullying and Harassment:

Talk with mentees about their experiences online.

Look for indications that they may be experiencing harassment or bullying online- especially among girls.

If a youth is experiencing cruelty through social media, dont ignore it! Show support, validate their experiences, and offer solutions.

Assist them to deal with conflicts they have had or are having with friends and family members online.

Help them understand privacy issues and online boundaries

Teens and Online Video

Take video of your activities with youth, or of their extra-curricular activities, and post these online for them to enjoy. They will know you are proud of them and cherish your time with them.

Help youth produce their own home videos, music recordings, poetry readings, etc.

Video chatting, such as on Skype or Facetime, may be a great way to connect with mentees if meeting in person is not an option. Approximately 1/3 of teens use video chat applications.