Theories & Approaches
What We Know About Youth Mentoring
The last decade of research has helped us to understand youth mentoring and how it works (Sipe, 2002; Jekielek, Moore, & Hair, 2002; DuBois, Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper, 2002; Grossman & Tierney, 1998). Jean Rhodes, in her book titled Stand by Me: The Risks and Rewards of Youth Mentoring, outlines a comprehensive model that traces the pathways of mentoring's influence. In this model, Rhodes suggests that mentors contribute to the development of youth by:
- enhancing the social-emotional development of the youth;
- being a role model and advocate for the youth; and
- improving the youth's cognitive development through dialogue and listening.
When these factors of influence converge, the research (Jekielek, Moore, & Hair, 2002; Sipe, 2002; Grossman & Tierney, 1998) suggests that mentoring demonstrates positive outcomes across three primary behavioral areas:
Youth participating in mentoring relationships experience positive academic returns such as better school attendance, increased interest in higher education, better attitudes toward school, and in some cases, improved grades.
The main health and safety outcomes targeted by mentoring programs are those related to substance use and delinquent behavior. In both areas, mentoring approaches show promise in the prevention of substance abuse and the reduction of some negative youth behaviors.
Mentoring enhances many aspects of young people's social and emotional development including positive social attitudes, satisfying relationships and young people's perceptions of their worth.
However, Rhodes' model also recognizes that the mentoring process is influenced by mediating variables that are external to the mentoring relationship such as:
- interpersonal history (e.g. abuse, illness, trauma);
- social competencies (e.g. mental health, communication skills);
- developmental stage;
- demographics (e.g. culture, SES, education); and
- ecological context (e.g. neighborhood, community)
Finally, Rhodes observes that parental and peer relationships may also serve as mediators that influence the outcomes of mentoring. In other words, while the outcomes associated with youth mentoring might be explained by a pathways model, it is important to recognize that the pathway is not linear and is influenced by multiple variables that are outside the control of the mentor/mentee relationship.
While the mechanisms that differentiate successful and unsuccessful mentoring relationships and programs have not been conclusively established, a recent meta-analysis of 55 youth mentoring research studies suggests that while mentoring has demonstrated a moderate effect in some studies, when considered as a whole, mentoring programs achieve a relatively small effect (DuBois, Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper, 2002).
Moreover, this meta analysis study suggests that positive youth outcomes appear to be associated with mentoring programs that employ theory-based and empirically-based "best practices."
While there is not enough data to conclusively determine which program practices are most important, the literature suggests the relative importance of three practices. These practices include:
- frequency of contact between mentors and mentees;
- duration of the mentor relationship (Grossman, & Rhodes, 2002); and
- perception of the quality of the mentor and youth relationship (Grossman, 1999; Jacovy, 2002).
In short, mentoring as an effective youth development intervention is supported by a growing social science base. Formal mentoring programs using evidence-based practices that support long-term quality relationships between adults and youth can be expected to produce positive impacts on a range of academic, psychosocial and health behavior outcomes.
Next we want to consider the specific role of mentoring as it relates to adolescent pregnancy prevention.