The Benefits of Virtually Mentoring Youth

By and reprinted from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Youth men­tor­ing pro­grams were dri­ven to adapt and embrace vir­tu­al options dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. A study — fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion — deliv­ers insights that mem­bers in the men­tor­ing field can use to refine their vir­tu­al approach­es and inform fur­ther innovation.

Men­tor­ing Research

The study’s find­ings are pre­sent­ed in a new report, Keep­ing Men­tor­ing Con­nec­tions in a Social­ly Dis­tanced World, authored by Equi­v­olve Con­sult­ing and cre­at­ed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with MEN­TOR pro­grams in Bal­ti­more and Mem­phis. The report explores ques­tions about the needs of men­tored youth and the effec­tive­ness of remote men­tor­ship dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. These ques­tions include:

  • How were youth affect­ed — social­ly and emo­tion­al­ly — by vir­tu­al learn­ing and social distancing?
  • How did men­tors help sup­port young peo­ple dur­ing the pandemic?
  • What were the ben­e­fits and draw­backs of remote mentorship?
  • What men­tor­ship approach­es did youth find most engag­ing? And most challenging?

Youth Men­tor­ing Study Findings

Despite the tech­ni­cal and inter­per­son­al chal­lenges — includ­ing unre­li­able inter­net ser­vice, dis­trac­tions at home and dif­fi­cul­ty estab­lish­ing on-screen rap­port — vir­tu­al and hybrid men­tor­ship mod­els can ben­e­fit young peo­ple, the study suggests.

From the youth per­spec­tive: Vir­tu­al men­tor­ing helped par­tic­i­pants stay aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly focused and moti­vat­ed to suc­ceed. It also pro­vid­ed a much-need­ed out­let for young peo­ple cop­ing with men­tal health issues linked to social iso­la­tion. At the same time, mentees report­ed the the need to incor­po­rate more social-emo­tion­al sup­port and skill-build­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties into sessions.

From the ser­vice-provider per­spec­tive: Men­tors shared how struc­tured vir­tu­al pro­gram­ming allowed for more flex­i­bil­i­ty in their every­day lives — a wel­come and nec­es­sary adap­ta­tion giv­en their shift­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties dur­ing the pandemic.

Both groups expressed an appre­ci­a­tion for in-per­son men­tor­ing while rec­og­niz­ing the ben­e­fits of adding vir­tu­al options to help men­tor­ing pro­grams grow more agile and sustainable.

“While vir­tu­al men­tor­ing has its chal­lenges, this study shows the impor­tance of adap­ta­tions that have pro­vid­ed cru­cial rela­tion­ships and con­nec­tions for young peo­ple dur­ing the pan­dem­ic,” says Jef­frey Poiri­er, a senior research asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion. ​“Young peo­ple are bring­ing up impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for pro­gram design­ers to pro­vide flex­i­ble options that allow them to get the most out of mentoring.”

Equi­v­olve Con­sult­ing’s Study Methods 

To con­duct this study, researchers uti­lized feed­back from both mentee focus groups and men­tor inter­views. They also hired youth research lead­ers — par­tic­i­pants from the MEN­TOR sites in Bal­ti­more and Mem­phis — to help with ques­tion devel­op­ment, data col­lec­tion and data analy­sis. These deci­sions sup­port­ed a key research pri­or­i­ty — authen­tic youth part­ner­ship — through­out the study’s development.

Read about young peo­ple’s views of their rela­tion­ships and networks

To access the post about this discussion, please click here.