Because of the individualized level of the mentor-mentee relationship, two youth participating in the same program may have drastically different experiences (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009). While individual relationships differ depending on the needs of the mentee, research has identified key characteristics of successful mentoring relationships including
- enduring relationships between mentor and mentee;
- consistent, reliable contact between mentor and mentee;
- strong emotional connections and feelings of closeness between mentor and mentee;
- a developmental, or youth-driven, approach to mentoring; and
- mentors who are genuine, understanding, affectionate, and supportive, and who challenge their mentees (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009).
The time commitment of mentors and mentees varies along with the frequency and type of interaction. For instance, some mentoring relationships are designed for interaction to take place once or twice weekly, with telephone calls or online interaction in between meetings. Other mentoring relationships take place on occasion on an “as needed” basis. While the time commitment may vary, research suggests that long-term relationships are more beneficial than short-term mentoring relationships. In fact, relationships that end prematurely may be detrimental to the mentee (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009). For example, Grossman and Rhodes (2002) found that mentoring relationships lasting at least 12 months produced more positive benefits for youth than those lasting less than 12 months.
Meetings between mentors and mentees can be scheduled in different ways. Many mentoring programs have set schedules for mentor and mentee meetings; however, some allow flexibility so that mentors and mentees can identify dates and times that work well for their schedules. Regardless of the flexibility of the schedule, research has found greater benefits for relationships where there is frequent, consistent, and reliable contact between mentor and mentee, especially for youth who have not had reliable adult figures in their lives. These relationships help foster trust and ensure more active involvement (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009).
Though mentoring relationships vary greatly, they can be a win-win situation for mentors and mentees alike. They require both parties to be actively engaged and take responsibility for making progress. Research indicates greater benefits, including increased satisfaction and closeness, when the mentor focuses on developmentally appropriate and youth-driven approaches and practices rather than a prescriptive approach. Mentors establish developmentally appropriate and youth-driven approaches by focusing on creating a strong connection with the mentee, learning about him or her, and understanding the youth’s interests. In a prescriptive approach, the mentor focuses on his or her personal goals for the youth which may not be realistic or developmentally appropriate for his or her mentee (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009). In addition to using developmentally appropriate approaches, research indicates that when mentors engage in social activities with youth, youth feel closer and more satisfied with the mentoring relationship (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009). While mentoring relationships can include a wide range of activities, some examples of activities typically undertaken in mentoring relationships include the following:
- Spending time learning about each other and building a personal relationship
- Talking about interests, family, and other topics that support relationship building
- Sharing life experiences, including successes and challenges experienced along the way
- Discussing the mentee's personal vision
- Discussing the mentee’s strengths and how to enhance his or her growth
- Identifying objectives for the mentoring relationship, preferably areas of focus related to shared interests as well as the mentee’s growth
- Conducting informal networking in which the mentee has opportunities to meet others who can contribute to his or her growth or serve as an inspiration to the mentee
- Reviewing and discussing the mentee’s resume
- Reviewing and discussing letters, proposals, or other documents written by the mentee
- Discussing cultural values that impact both mentor and mentee’s everyday experiences, including specific examples of how they play out
- Discussing "unwritten rules" for success
- Discussing career interests
- Sharing/lending books, tapes, CDs
- Discussing role models that have been influential in their lives
- Discussing concerns and worries at school, work, or at home, and ways to address those concerns (National Institutes of Health, n.d.)
Learn more about activities that can help youth (including those with disabilities) reach developmental milestones in school, prepare for careers, engage in youth development and leadership, and develop social-emotional skills.
Some mentoring relationships involve not only a relationship between a mentor and mentee but also a relationship between the mentor and the mentee’s family or key people in his or her social network. DuBois, Holloway, Valentine, and Cooper (2002) found relationships between mentors and mentees were enhanced by relationships between mentors and the mentees’ parents; Hirsh (2005) found similar effects for relationships between mentors and the mentees’ peers. In addition, mentoring has been shown to improve relationships between youth and their families, peers, and other adults (Tierney, Grossman, & Resch, 1995)
Deutsch, N. L., & Spencer, R. (2009). Capturing the magic: Assessing the quality of youth mentoring relationships. New Directions for Youth Development, 121, 47-70.
DuBois, D. L., Holloway, B. E., Valentine, J. C., & Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of mentoring programs for youth: A meta analytic review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 157-197.
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, 30, 199-219.
Hirsch, B. J. (2005). A place to call home: After-school programs for urban youth. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, and New York: Teachers College Press.
National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Things to do together, Mentor-mentee meetings. NIH-HHS Mentoring Program. Retrieved from http://trainingcenter.nih.gov/PDF/mentoring/Things_to_do_together.pdf
Tierney, J. P., Grossman, J. B., & Resch, N. L. (1995). Making a difference. An impact study of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.
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