FORUM: Should mentors and mentees be “friends” on social media?

8583949219_f55657573e_zIt goes without saying that social media has dramatically changed the way people interact and share their lives with others over the past decade. We now have the ability to broadcast information about ourselves to audiences at a scale that once would have seemed unimaginable. We also have the ability to carefully curate a “public” version of ourselves, to pick and choose the aspects of our life that we promote and disseminate. We get to put our best “self” on display to as broad an audience as we want. We can instantaneously connect with individuals a world away and self-organize into digital communities of our choosing. Unfortunately, this technological power has also increased our ability to share more than we intend, to hide our true selves, and made it even easier to offend, annoy, confuse, and antagonize others. Social media has taken the good and bad of personal communication and turned the amp up to 11.

Back in January, the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring hosted a wonderful short course called Youth Mentoring in the Digital Age, which explored how social media is changing relationships between mentors and youth (and between participants and programs).  At the heart of this course was the essential tension that mentoring programs face when trying to figure out how to handle social media: While some programs have simply banned its use, others are finding that social media provides valuable and untapped channels of communication.

The course explored the ethical issues of using social media for mentor-mentee communication, the risk management complications this ever-changing technology presents, and some emerging best practices for integrating social media into mentoring programs and relationships. I encourage you to check out the archived videos and readings.

But I’d like to hear what you think on this issue… Do you think mentors and mentees should communicate via social media? What criteria would make that a good idea or not? What policies should a mentoring program have around this issue? Are some platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) better than others? And is it even possible to be an effective mentor of an older youth today without being connected digitally somehow?

(My two cents: I think it’s fine for relationships with older mentees and a potentially vital source of information and communication for mentors, especially with youth who may be hard to meet with frequently. But both parties need to be careful about what they share and never treat social media as a substitute for real engagement.)

Please take a minute to share your thoughts in the comments below about the appropriate role of social media in mentoring relationships. Good idea or trouble waiting to happen?

[photo courtesy of Jason Howie]

2 Comments on "FORUM: Should mentors and mentees be “friends” on social media?"

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  1. usman1122 says:

    Mentor a Mentees should be friends I was looking for a mentor to help me through the challenges of starting my own business, and I found this website where hundreds of mentors have joined to help mentees in almost all fields of life. You can also find mentors online for free here: http://findamentor.com. Search your mentor and start the discussion right away.

  2. Cheri Faunce says:

    There are many things to take into consideration when looking at social networking and the mentor/mentee relationship. At Kansas Mentors, we advise our programs to consider the following:

    -The role of the mentor (ie: If you become friends with your mentee in social media networks, you are adding a new role to the list.)
    -Boundaries (ie: Social networking can blur the boundaries between a mentor and mentee.)
    -Appropriateness (ie: Even if the mentor is incredibly cognizant of what she is posting on Facebook, it is important to remember that she does not have control over what her friends are posting.)
    -Confidentiality (ie: If you become friends with your mentee on social networking sites, you are inadvertently putting yourself in a situation where you may feel the need to break confidentiality.)

    We think this decision should be made by each individual program after taking into consideration the points discussed above. We strongly encourage every program to have a solid social media policy regardless of the stance they take on the issue.

    We are excited to learn more about this topic and look forward to viewing the archived video. Thank you for sharing!

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