The Transformative Force of Youth Mentoring Across Communities, Schools, and Talent Domains

Happy excited young people in white t-shirts raising arms when standing in city park, view from the back

Luo, L., & Stoeger, H. (2023). Unlocking the transformative power of mentoring for youth development in communities, schools, and talent domains. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

About the Study

The concept of supportive relationships between an older or more experienced individual and a younger or less experienced individual dates back to Homer’s Odyssey and is still relevant today. Mentoring is a personalized educational measure that promotes socioemotional well-being, academic success, & other positive outcomes for youth and varies in formats, structures, & goals, depending on the target population. This article describes three types of mentoring (school, community, and talent development), addresses the mentoring paradox (the gap between the potential impacts of mentoring and the actual effects of mentoring), and provides recommendations for stakeholders.

Key Findings:

  • Community-Based Mentoring (CBM): CBM refers to supportive relationships between non-parental adult volunteers (mentors) from the community and young people (mentees). CBM relationships can be naturally occurring, conducted through formal programs, or youth-initiated (combines natural and formal mentoring approaches and allows youths to select their mentors). They usually promote well-being and prosocial behaviors & attitudes among at-risk youth.
  • School-Based Mentoring (SBM): SBM usually refers to formal programs where school or community pair volunteers (mentors) with at-risk students (mentees). Peer mentorships are another type of SBM that aims to help young people adjust to transitions in school. They take place during or after school and provide various forms of support, depending on program goals. Some SBM programs focus on instrumental support (e.g., addressing misconduct and academic performance). In contrast, others focus more on emotional support or developmental goals (e.g., social integration or developing a cultural identity). Research shows that SBM is more affordable to run and is just as effective as CBM.   
  • Talent Development Mentoring in Subject Domains: Talent development mentoring focuses on fostering youths’ talents in specific subject domains. While most talent development mentorships are informal, formal programs are becoming common. Online formats are popular since talent development mentoring is niche and connects people worldwide. There are three proposed stages of talent development and the roles of mentors change over time. Stage one describes the development of a youth’s interest in a specific subject. During this time, parents and teachers help foster their passion and provide foundational support in that subject domain. Stage 2 focuses on advancing an individual’s values, skills, and knowledge about a subject. This particular phase can last until adulthood and involve myriads of mentors (usually teachers and professors). Lastly, stage 3 encourages people to develop their unique styles and contribute to the domain. Mentors during this phase are usually leaders who serve as professional role models.   
  • Mentoring Paradox:  Although mentoring relationships have the potential to promote positive youth outcomes, research demonstrates that mentoring produces small effects. This mentoring paradox likely stems from a) mentoring programs utilizing non-specific friendship models of mentoring, where supportive relationships alone are presumed to promote positive youth outcomes, and b) mentoring programs not adhering to research-based practices. 
  • Planning & Implementing Effective Mentoring Programs: The foundation of effective mentoring programs is contingent on meticulous considerations of its goals, its targeted population, what resources they have at their disposal, and what types of activities they want to provide. Because of how diverse mentoring programs can be, programs need to be thorough about their organizational structure and assess whether it addresses their primary objectives. For instance, they need to consider what kinds of mentors they want to recruit (teachers, community members, peers, etc.), what mentoring format to use (one-on-one or group), what mediums would work best for them (in-person, online, or hybrid), how long they want their programming to last and so on. While mentoring programs are highly individualized, there are still research-based practices and advice that all of them can implement. Two notable examples are 1) ensuring that mentors and mentees have similar mentoring expectations and 2) providing prematch and ongoing training that covers basic mentoring practices and program-specific practices.
  • Quality Assurance of Mentoring Programs: Continuous monitoring, evaluations, and program adaptations also contribute to mentoring’s success. Evidence demonstrates that implementing more research-based practices increases the likelihood of promoting positive outcomes effectively and helps staff members understand the individual, contextual, and program-level factors that influence the overall success of mentorships. Mentoring programs need to evaluate whether they are effectively promoting their predefined youth outcomes, utilize training material & resources, adhere to evidence-based recommendations, and make practice adjustments accordingly.

Implications for Mentoring 

This paper provides an extensive review of mentoring’s potential in promoting youth development. While youth mentoring is often associated with supporting at-risk youth, it’s crucial to acknowledge the diversity within the field. For this reason, three strands of mentoring were evaluated: community-based mentoring, school-based mentoring, and talent development mentoring. Each type demonstrates how structures, mediums, formats, and mentor types can be customized to cater to specific demographics, developmental needs, and outcomes. Considering the wide variety of options mentoring programs have, it’s essential for stakeholders to carefully evaluate various aspects of their programs, whether that be what population they are targeting, what outcomes they want to promote, how long they want the mentorships to last, etc. It’s also vital for them to implement evidence-based practices and continuously monitor, evaluate, & adjust their programming as needed.   

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