A while back we had an interesting question going on with a group of youth workers on Twitter. One youth worker asked if we thought it was okay for her to mentor a male youth from her youth group. There was no one else available, yet her church had a problem with it. It was interesting to see everyone wrestle with this issue, because we all understood the risks, yet we also understood the urgency of him needing a mentor.
Is it okay to mentor someone from the opposite sex? It’s a hard question to answer, but here’s my answer: yes, it’s okay to mentor or coach someone from the opposite sex, but…And here come the ‘buts’ in the form of questions:
Is anyone else available?
I think we can all agree that same-sex mentoring or coaching is preferable. So if anyone else is available from the same sex and there are no pressing arguments why that person shouldn’t become mentor, that person should do it.
Is there a reason why it has to be this person?
Sometimes there’s a very valid reason why the mentor has to be a specific person, even if he or she is from the opposite sex. That can be because there’s a strong bond already (especially when the mentored youth has big issues or isn’t very trusting), because there’s a shared experience that’s crucial (e.g. abuse) or because the mentor has a special gift or expertise that’s needed.
Are there any risk factors?
Do an honest assessment to see if there are any factors that may lead to problems, like too much dependency, sexual attraction, emotional affairs, etc. If the youth is for instance emotionally unstable or known to be sexually ‘provocative’, this are warning signs you need to take seriously. The same goes for the mentor, be careful to look out for any signs of trouble here as well, like being too attached to youth, crossing boundaries, etc.
If you are going to be the mentor, be very honest with yourself if you can handle it. If you feel yourself attracted to the youth in any way, say no to protect yourself, the youth, your marriage and your youth ministry.
Is everyone okay with this?
If you decide to allow for the mentoring, make sure everyone is informed and is okay with it. That means the youth ministry leadership, the youth, the parents, the spouse of the mentor and anyone else involved. Be very clear and open in your communication so everyone knows what’s happening and there are no unpleasant surprises afterwards.
Hard rule: always meet in public
Under these conditions, I think it’s okay to mentor someone from the opposite sex. However, I would advise on one hard rule: always meet in public or have someone else close by to ‘watch you’. It’s the best way to protect yourself, the other and your reputation.
I have mentored guys in the past, but I’ve always done so when my husband was home, so I was never alone with them. If that wasn’t possible, I often went to McDonalds or I met them in our church building and left the door of my room open. Everyone in my youth ministry knew I never met with a guy alone and they respected me for it. It was never an issue.
My example in this case is Billy Graham, who made it a point never to meet with another woman than his wife in private. He didn’t even make an exception for First Lady Hillary Clinton when she sought his advice, and met her in a coffee place. It’s a great example to follow.
How do you feel about mentoring or coaching someone from the opposite sex? Have you ever done it? What safe guides do you recommend?