Mentoring Relationships

Susan Jekielek, M.A., Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D., and Elizabeth C. Hair, Ph.D. (2002) have spent a great deal of time studying the effectiveness of mentoring relationships. They have found significant improvement in mentees:

  • Significant reductions in school absence
  • Higher college participation
  • Better school attitudes and behavior
  • Less drug and alcohol use
  • Less likelihood of hitting others
  • More positive attitudes toward their elders and toward helping
  • Improved parental relationships and support from peers

Jekielek and others found that higher-quality mentoring relationships were built upon structure and planning. Success was much more likely when there was an effort to provide pre- and post-match training and support with some direct supervision of the matched relationship. It was also important for the mentor/mentee interests to be considered during the matching process because shared social activities where critical to building trust.

couch reading sm 300x196 Mentoring RelationshipsEffective mentors should be willing to commit to a long-term relationship and make regular contact with their mentee, as well as participate in ongoing training and communication with program directors. Through an in-depth, nine-month study, Morrows and Style (1995) identified two main types of mentoring relationships and the outcomes they produce. “Developmental” volunteers were adult mentors who held expectations that varied over time in relation to their perception of the needs of the youth. In the beginning, the mentors devoted themselves to establishing a strong connection with the youth. They felt satisfied with their mentee’s progress and with the relationship overall; when doubts arose, they were more likely to consult caseworkers for reassurance or advice. The youth in these relationships reported feeling a considerable sense of support from their adult friend. Further, many of the youth in developmental relationships demonstrated a pattern of seeking help independently and voluntarily divulged difficulties in their school or personal lives, allowing the volunteer to provide guidance and advice.

Prescriptive” volunteers viewed their own goals for the match (usually these are “good” goals, e.g., academic achievement) as primary rather than the youth’s. Some prescriptive volunteers required the youth to take equal responsibility for maintaining the relationship and for providing feedback about its meaning. The prescriptive volunteers ultimately felt frustrated. The youth were similarly frustrated, dissatisfied with the relationship, and far less likely to regard their mentor as a source of consistent support. Often, these prescriptive relationships developed growing tension, which led, at least in part, to their frequent demise. Two-thirds of the prescriptive matches no longer met nine months after the first study interview, whereas only about ten percent of the developmental relationships had ended.

Grossman and Rhodes found that matches involving volunteer married persons 26-30 years old, were 86 percent more likely to terminate their relationship each month compared with matches with 18-25 year old volunteers, and far more likely than non-married 26-30 year olds (who were less likely to terminate relationships compared with 18-25 year old volunteers). At Shelterwood, we have also found that single mentors between the ages of 21 – 27 are incredibly committed to the task of mentoring and are less likely than all other age groups to end their relationship with students. While, society has deemed this age group as selfish and uncommitted, at our Academy we have found our mentors to be incredibly committed and trustworthy. They demonstrate an eagerness to learn and share their lives with younger students. This age group tends to be more open to supervision and training than older volunteers and they have the disposable time necessary to invest deeply into the lives of their mentees.

Good quality mentorship programs like Shelterwood use structure and planning to facilitate high levels of mentor-mentee interaction. In her research, Jekielek has found that those mentors who received more hours of training had longer-lasting matches. At Shelterwood, training and supervision is an ongoing part of our program as we bring teens into relationship with recent college graduates. This type of intensive mentor care has been part of the Shelterwood experience for over thirty-four years and often continues long after our students have graduated from our school. Avenues such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have allowed us to maintain a significant level of investment, even if the distance between the mentor and mentee expands over time.