Successful youth mentoring relationships can provide fertile ground for teaching and learning, sharing and growing, renewing or establishing positive social benefits to the community and to the future. These pairings, however, also may bear the dynamic of power relationships, including the need to navigate confidentiality and its limits, and the responsibility to build an edifice of trust.

If not carefully addressed upfront, the inherent imbalance of power could lead to abuse in the mentor-mentee relationship. Typically, mentors have more knowledge, experience, and status, and in most cases are in a position of authority over the mentee. Even a mentor who is not very senior has a great deal of power relative to a mentee. The mentee has much to gain from the mentor’s support and advocacy, and fear of jeopardizing that support makes the relationship particularly imbalanced.

How, then, do we protect the integrity of the mentoring relationship? Just as ethical guidelines are crucial in other professions (doctors, lawyers, psychologists), they are equally fundamental to successful mentoring relationships. Ethical dilemmas are common and can occur in everyday situations. Ethical guidelines protect both the mentor and the mentee from allowing uncomfortable and problematic situations to jeopardize the relationship.

In their recent paper “First Do No Harm: Ethical Principles for Youth Mentoring Relationships, Drs. Jean Rhodes, Belle Liang and Renee Spencer created and established the first code of ethical principles for mentoring.  Knowing this Code of Ethical Principles can be helpful for mentors in making decisions with mentees.

The code can best be represented by six principles of ethical mentoring:

  • Act with integrity
  • Protect the safety of your mentee
  • Behave in a way that benefits your mentee
  • Behave in a fair and objective way
  • Respect the rights and dignity of your mentee and his or her family
  • Behave in a trustworthy and responsible way

Because mentoring relationships can influence mentees in many ways, it demands adherence to the code. So, you may wonder, how can you use these principles to inform your decision-making when you are with your mentee?

Comprehensive pre-match and ongoing training could ensure more effective relationship development, helping mentors understand how to avoid ethical violations, and create more positive outcomes. Mentor training can take different formats.  Providing mentors with consistent, timely, and high-quality pre-match training is one of the most im­portant things a mentoring program can do to build strong matches and achieve program goals.

Learn more about training for the mentoring code of ethics.