Early in the time in which you are mentoring teens, you MUST establish a level of confidentiality with them. The only way for your kids to open up to you and seek guidance is if they trust you and can count on you to not reveal their secrets. Immediately express to them that almost anything they need to share with you will remain between you and them. Period. If they share some conflict they are experiencing, you are not going to rat them out, UNLESS…..
Give them an example that if they got into a conflict with another kiddo, you aren’t going to spread around that information. That means you are not going to mention the conflict in team meeting unless the child gives you the permission to do so. If she/he and the other girl/boy are seated right next to each other in another class, ask for permission to talk with that particular teacher to see if the seating arrangement can very subtly change. If the child’s answer is, “No,” ; then, “OK…. Just wanted to give you that option….” It is fine if your mentee does not want to take advantage of that opportunity.
Here is where the “UNLESS” comes into play. All of that confidentiality is wonderful, but before ANY communication starts between you and your kiddos, you MUST set the limits about how far confidentiality goes. I call it the Big Three: 1. If someone is hurting you, I have to report it. 2. If someone is hurting someone else or is going to hurt someone else, I have to report it. 3. If you are hurting yourself or are going to hurt yourself, I have to report it.
As a teacher, I was a Mandatory Reporter, and I would explain to my kids that if I found out about any of those situations and did NOT report it, I could be fired. But then I went on to tell them that if I learned about any of these Big Three happening to any kiddo and I did NOT report it, I would deserve to be fired, because that would mean I was not looking out for my kids. It is an absolute.
If the specific words are not being said, but the hair on the back of your neck starts to rise (I always refer it to my “rabbit ears” raising.) it can’t hurt to at least go to a counselor and share your concerns on an anonymous basis. At least that way, the responsibility is off your back. One of the few regrets I have from my teaching years is when I read an essay that raised my antenna and I didn’t report it. The damage had already been done, but I could have at least brought the problem to light a few weeks before it actually was. Thankfully, it taught me a lesson that proved to be true in the following years: If your instincts tell you something is wrong, don’t let it go. Reporting concerns to a counselor or social worker is always better than regretting that you did NOT do so earlier.