A mentor has been defined as a wise and trusted friend (www.mentoring.org). Mentoring relationships typically have three important elements:
- A mentor has more experience than the mentee;
- The mentor gives guidance that facilitates the growth of the mentee; and
- A strong emotional bond between the mentor and mentee is present, including the feeling of trust (DuBois and Karcher, 2005).
Using this definition, mentoring relationships often take place in a variety of settings and forms—they can be formal or informal, include groups, teams, other peers, or take place in one-on-one formats (http://youth.gov/youth-topics/mentoring/types-mentoring-relationships).
Literature on mentoring has identified a number of key benefits that are available to youth. These include:
- Socio- Emotional, Cognitive, and Identity Development Benefits. During interactions with youth, mentors can challenge negative assumptions that young people hold of themselves and help them better regulate emotions, problem-solve, and envision a more positive future (Rhodes, 2005).
- Resilience. Mentors can act as protective influences for youth, helping them to identify and use their strengths to overcome challenges (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005).
- Positive Youth Development. Mentoring provides a milieu for young people to acquire and practice assets associated with positive youth development, including caring, competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution (Lerner, 2007, 2013).
- Prevention of Behaviors Linked to Delinquency. In research on outcomes, youth matched with mentors were less likely to initiate drug and alcohol use, less likely to hit someone, had better peer and parent relationships, and were less likely to skip school than a control group of youth still on a waiting list to receive mentoring services (Tierney, Grossman, & Resch 1995).
- Envisioning Future Achievement in Education. In school-based mentoring programs, youth were more likely to envision a future attending college than the control group of youth on the mentoring program’s waiting list (Herrera, Grossman, et. al, 2007).
- Identity Development. Mentoring relationships are not one-size fits all. Matching adults and young people from diverse backgrounds may require additional levels of training and support (DuBois, Portillo, et al, 2011, MENTOR, 2015). However, when safeguards and intentional matching strategies are used, such relationships appear to offer support for youth as they develop diverse facets of their identity. For example, mentoring relationships are seen to create opportunities for youth to gain role models and support that can help them navigate through phases of cultural and racial identity development (Sanchez & Colon, 2005), sexual-minority identity development (Ross, 2005), or accessing support for assimilation/acculturation (Birman & Morland, 2013).
Given the importance of helping all young people advance toward a healthy adulthood, mentoring appears to offer range of benefits that can support this goal. With built in opportunities to help young people access cognitive, socio-emotional, and identity development benefits, mentoring relationships can make important impacts for youth within the classroom and beyond.