Mentoring: The Basics

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Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

“This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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Mentoring is one of the most widely used approaches for engaging youth who experience additional vulnerability or adversity, and are in need of positive adult support.


What do we know?

Over 5,000 organizations in the United States offer some form of mentoring and serve approximately 3 million youth (Dubois, Portillo, Rhodes, Silverthorn & Valentine, 2011; National Mentoring Partnership, 2006). Such a substantial number of programs is required because an estimated 8.5 million youth (about 20%) do not have a caring adult in their lives (Cavell et al., 2009).

  • Mentoring fosters meaningful personal connections that have lasting implications for the youth who participate (Dubois et al, 2011).
  • Effective mentoring relationships are supportive, structured, and focused on the needs of the mentee (Rhodes, 2002; Mentor, 2009).
  • A mentor must be encouraging and fully invested in helping their mentee reach their fullest potential (Rhodes, 2002; Mentor, 2009).
  • A mentor’s role is multifaceted. At any given moment, a mentor may serve as an advisor, coach, teacher, or advocate (Gotian, 2016).
  • There are two forms of mentoring:
    • Informal mentoring occurs when a mentoring relationship forms by chance, without any prearranged schedule or agenda (Bynum, 2015).
    • In contrast, formal mentoring programs are managed and endorsed by an organization (Bynum, 2015).
  • There are also a number of different types of mentoring (Rhodes, 2002; Mentor, 2009):
    • Traditional mentoring typically involves one adult and one young person. Group mentoring involves one adult and up to four young people.
    • Team mentoring involves several adults working with small groups of young people in which the adult-to-youth ratio is not greater than 1:4.
    • Peer mentoring involves a youth mentoring another youth.
    • E-mentoring involves mentoring via email, social media, or other forms of internet communication.
  • Not every person is able to easily access supportive relationships with adults. Mentoring, in its contemporary form, is a planned intervention which aims to address this lack of relationship, particularly for vulnerable youth (Bennetts, 2003).

To learn more about the different types of mentoring, see the mentoring models toolkit module.

So What?

  • Essentially, mentoring ensures that a youth has at least one supportive person in their life that can encourage growth and development, and serve as a connection to needed resources (National Mentoring Partnership).
    • Youth involved in the same mentoring relationship for a year or more reported improvements in school work, social relationships, and behavioral outcomes (Meyer & Bouchey, 2010).
    • Mentors can be instrumental in helping youth develop emotionally and behaviorally. They can be both a challenging and comforting agent on a youth’s journey toward independence (Dejong 2004).
    • Youth participating in mentoring relationships show improvement on important educational measures compared to youth with similar circumstances that are not participating in mentoring programs (Jekielek, Moore & Hair, 2002).
    • Youth participating in mentoring programs have better attitudes and behaviors at school and have better chances of attending college (Jekielek, Moore & Hair, 2002).
    • Compared with non-participants, youth who participate in programs that include mentoring have less drug and alcohol use (especially among minority youth) and in some cases, fewer delinquent behaviors (Jekielek, Moore & Hair, 2002).
  • There is currently a significant mentoring gap in our country. Approximately 16 million youth are never involved in a mentoring relationship of any kind, either formal or informal (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014).

Now What?

General Practice Implications for Individuals

  • Seek out opportunities for mentoring. Be thoughtful about what you are able to offer in the way of time, talents, and opportunities.
  • Connect with a mentoring program that is working toward a purpose that you feel passionate about. Look for mentoring programs whose goals relate to your educational and occupation background (DuBois, Portillo, Rhodes, Silverthorn & Valentine, 2011).
  • Ask questions about how you will be matched with a mentee. Advocate for a match based on shared interest, as this typically results in a more successful pairing (Dubois, Portillo, Rhodes, Silverthorn & Valentine, 2011). Consider logistics of meeting with your mentee as well such as transportation, schedule and geography.
  • Ensure that you have the time to invest in a mentoring relationship. The most impactful relationships involve consistent contact for at least 1 year (National Mentor Partnership, 2016). Conversely, match relationships that end prematurely can actually cause harm for the mentee (Grossman, Rhodes 2002).

General Practice Implications for Service Providers

  • Ensure that you are providing high quality mentoring by evaluating program effectiveness and adhering to identified best practices for mentoring (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014). The resource Elements of Effective Practice in Mentoring defines standards in six areas of program implementation which provides an evidence-based reference to guide program development.
  • Utilize practices likely to encourage the development of effective mentoring relationships by (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009; Matz, 2014):
    • Selecting mentors who are experienced in working with youth.
    • Defining clear expectations regarding the frequency and type of contact between mentors and youth.
    • Providing ongoing training for both staff and mentors.
    • Creating space for and supporting parental/guardian involvement.
    • Providing structured activities for mentor matches.
    • Utilizing a model that is conducive to building strong relationships in the community and developing strategies to expand your site-based approach to also include activities in the community.
    • Systematically monitor the program by integrating program practices that gather information on the experiences of youth, as well as data on accomplishments and outcomes. This information should be reviewed at regular intervals to inform continuous program.

General Practice Implications for Communities

  • Raise awareness about the mentoring gap and the need for additional mentors to meet the growing need of youth in our country (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014). If you are or have been a mentor, share some of your positive experiences with others in your personal and professional networks.
  • Educate community members on the positive benefits of mentoring and provide them a way to connect to programs in need of mentors. Connect them with local and national volunteer registries such as Mentor Connector that list mentoring opportunities based on geographic location.
  • Advocate for systems of coordination at the federal level which promote common standards of excellence and shared methods of evaluation across all agencies providing mentoring (Cavell et al., 2009).
  • Seek partnerships and/or design policies that can help address the mentor gap such as offering college credit for mentoring, employee release for mentoring, tax credits, and other incentives (Cavell et al., 2009).
  • Advocate for federal, state, and local dollars to be invested in quality mentoring programs (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014).


Discussion Questions

  • What do we see in our community that creates a need for mentoring?
  • How can mentoring provide support for young people in our community?
  • Who is currently providing mentoring services in our community?
  • What are some ways individuals can mentor others?
  • How can we measure the success of our mentoring relationships/matches?
  • How long should mentoring relationships last in order to be successful?
  • How might you support the practice of mentoring in our community?


  • Bennetts, C. (2003). Mentoring youth: Trend and tradition. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 31(1), 63.
  • Bruce, M., Bridgeland, J. (2014). The mentoring effect: Young people’s perspectives on the outcome and availability of mentoring. MENTOR: A National Mentor Partnership, Washington, DC.
  • Bynum, Y. P. (2015). The Power of Informal Mentoring. Education, 136(1), 69-73.
  • Cavell, T., DuBois, D., Karcher, M., Keller, T., & Rhodes, J. (2009). Strengthening mentoring opportunities for at-risk youth. Retrieved from…
  • DeJong, M. (2004). Metaphor and the mentoring Process. Child & Youth Care Forum, 33(1), 3-17.
  • DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How effective are mentoring programs for youth? A systematic assessment of the evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12 (2), 57–91.
  • Deutsch, N. L., & Spencer, R. (2009). Capturing the magic: Assessing the quality of youth mentoring relationships. New Directions for Youth Development, 2009(121), 47-70. doi:10.1002/yd.296
  • Gotian, R. R. (2016). Mentoring the mentors: Just because you have the title doesn't mean you know what you are doing. College Student Journal, 50(1), 1-4.
  • Humberd, B. K., & Rouse, E. D. (2016). Seeing you in me and me in you: Personal identification in the phases of mentoring relationships. Academy of Management Review, 41(3), 435-455. doi:10.5465/amr.2013.0203
  • Jekielek, S., Moore K. A., & Hair, E. C. (2002). Mentoring programs and youth development: A synthesis. Washington, DC: Child Trends.
  • Johnson, W. B. (2002). The intentional mentor: Strategies and guidelines for the practice of mentoring. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(1), 88-96. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.33.1.88
  • Matz, A. K. (2014). COMMENTARY: Do youth mentoring programs work? A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 3(2), 83-101.
  • MENTOR/National Mentor Partnership. (2016). Elements of effective practice in mentoring. Fourth Edition. Retrieved from:…
  • MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership. (2006). Mentoring in America 2005: A snapshot of the current state of mentoring. Alexandria, VA. Rhodes, & J. DuBois, D.
  • Meyer, K. C., & Bouchey, H. A. (2010). Daring to DREAM: Results from a mentoring programme for at-risk youth. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring, 8(1), 67-84.
  • Rhodes, J.E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today’s youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Grossman, J.B. & Rhodes, J E. (2002).The Test of Time: Predictors and Effects of Duration in Youth Mentoring Relationships. American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol.30, No.2,199-219.
  • Weiler, L. M., Zarich, K. J., Haddock, S. A., Krafchick, J. L., & Zimmerman, T. S. (2014). A comprehensive model of mentor experiences: Perceptions, strategies, and outcomes. Journal of Community Psychology, 42(5), 593-608.

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