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]