Do Youth Experience Enduring, High Quality Mentoring Relationships?

Research shows that matches that have a strong relationship, meet frequently and last longer are more likely to bring about positive mentee outcomes.

Relationship Quality

In high quality relationships, mentees feel that:

  • they have a good relationship with their mentor
  • the mentor is focused on their interests
  • the mentor can be trusted as an adult friend
  • the relationship is strong and meaningful

To develop a positive relationship, it is important that mentors and mentees engage in activities both enjoy. The types of activities will depend on the goals of the program, but appropriate community-based mentoring activities include meeting to talk, attending sports events, seeing a movie and going to a museum.

Mentors are there to help youth find their own paths and their own voices, so programs should ensure that volunteers take an approach to mentoring that is focused on the goals and interests of the mentees. Programs and volunteers that are too focused on activities they think will “fix” the mentee’s “problems” often have a hard time generating a trusting bond between mentors and mentees. Mentor-mentee relationships that foster encouragement, trust, and empathy are more likely to bring about internal change in youths. 

Frequency of Meetings and Duration of Match

The most successful matches meet for a few hours a week for at least a year. Studies indicate that consistent contact leads to higher-quality mentoring relationships and increases the chances of positive changes in the mentee. Research indicates that youth whose mentors contacted them most often had better outcomes than comparison groups on a range of indicators, such as:

  • improved grades
  • increased likelihood of attending college
  • greater confidence about school
  • improved school attendance
  • lowered chance of drug and alcohol use

Also, program duration has been significantly correlated with positive effects.  Adolescents in relationships that lasted a year or longer reported the largest number of improvements, compared to youth who were in relationships that ended earlier (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002).  Mentoring relationships that end prematurely/abruptly tend to affect youth adversely. The effects of mentoring may not endure long after the match ends, so programs should aim to support relationships over many years. Excessive staff/volunteer or mentee turnover indicates that a program needs improvement. 

What You Should Do

Given the importance of enduring, high quality relationships, programs should:

  • Use a survey to measure at regular intervals how youth perceive the quality of the relationship (for example at three months, and every six months thereafter) - this supplements and does not replace informal checks on how the youth experiences the match.
  • Review mentor logs to monitor frequency of meetings and ensure that activities are appropriate.
  • Track match start and end dates to learn about average duration of matches.
  • Conduct exit interviews and track reasons why volunteers and mentees leave.

If relationship quality, frequency of meetings and duration of matches are poor, it is appropriate to examine how the program can improve its recruitment, screening, training, matching and support of matches.

Surveys / Assessments


Sources Cited

DuBois, D. and Karcher, M. (eds.). (2005) Handbook of Youth Mentoring. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc. p. 228

Deutsch, N. and Spencer, R. (2009). Capturing the Magic: Assessing the quality of youth mentoring relationships. New Directions for Youth Development, 121 p.47-70.

Grossman, J. B. (1999). Contemporary Issues in Mentoring. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.

Jekielek, S., Moore, K., & Hair, E. (2002). Mentoring Programs and Youth Development: A Synthesis. Child Trends: The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

Jekielek, S., Moore, K., Hair, E.C., & Scarupa, H. (2002) Mentoring: A Promising Strategy for Youth Development. Child Trends Research Brief, Washington, D.C.

Karcher, M. J., Kuperminc, G., Portwood, S., Sipe, C., & Taylor, A. (2006). Mentoring programs: A framework to inform program development, research, and evaluation. Journal of Community Psychology, 34, 709–725.

MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership. (2005) How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program: Using the elements of effective practice.

Rhodes, J.E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today’s youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rhodes, J. & Lowe, S.R. (2008) Youth Mentoring and Resilience: Implications for practice. Child Care in Practice, 14 (1) 9-17.

Sipe, C.L., (1996). Mentoring: A synthesis of P/PV’s Research: 1988-1995. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.

Additional Resources

Building Relationships: A guide for new mentors Contemporary Issues in Mentoring 

Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring (3rd Edition)  

Foundations of Successful Youth Mentoring, A guidebook for program development 

Generic Mentoring Programs: Policy and Procedures Manual 

How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program: Using the elements of effective practice Mentoring: A Promising Strategy for Youth Development