2.1 When and How Mentoring Can Work

While the benefits of mentoring may be visible to you, how can you tell if youth themselves are open to working with mentors?

Youth signaling

Teens and tweens may not directly verbalize that they are seeking support. The concept of “youth signaling” describes the actions that youth undertake that may show signs of their motivation to learn. Examples of youth signaling include: sharing accomplishments, reaching out for guidance, openly displaying expertise, and actively networking.1 These “signals” may indicate that a young person is open to mentoring.

For effective mentoring, it’s important to understand how the experience will affect youth and how to foster a meaningful relationship. Mentors and youth should develop a connection that is established by trust, friendship, and empathy.2 Past research has identified some key characteristics and approaches to effective mentoring (for formal and informal situations), including:

  • Talking with youth instead of at them. Many mentors describe their approach to talking with youth as low-key or an equitable style of conversation.3
  • Offering encouragement and role modeling. Through working together, youth and mentors can problem-solve and collaborate. Mentors share their skills, knowledge, expertise.7, 8
  • Providing connections to other communities and experiences. Mentors may offer pathways and contacts that can increase a young person’s personal and professional networks.3, 4
  • Putting in the time. For longer term situations, research shows that mentors and youth who spend time together on a consistent basis over long periods of time can create lasting bonds.5

More formalized mentoring programs may require some additional planning

Research on how to encourage effective, long term mentoring places emphasis on the following elements:

  • Time commitment from both mentor/mentee
  • Continuous training and support for mentors
  • Regular check ins with mentors and mentees
  • Community service projects
  • Structured activities and goal setting2
  • Program-sponsored activities to enhance mentoring
  • Parental support and involvement
  • Support from programs and services to supplement mentoring6

your experiences with mentoring

Have you ever considered yourself a mentor? Have you ever considered yourself a mentee? Describe what these past relationships looked like.


1: Ching et al., 2017

2: Rhodes, J. E., & DuBois, D. L. (2008). Mentoring relationships and programs for youth. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(4), 254-258.

3: Meltzer, A., Muir, K., & Craig, L. (2016). Being trusted: The perspectives of trusted adults about engaging with young people. Children and Youth Services Review, 63, 58-66.

4: Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, by Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins. 2013.

5: Spencer, R. (2007). “It’s not what I expected”: A qualitative study of youth mentoring relationship failures. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22, 331–354.

6: Natural Mentoring Relationships and Adolescent Health: Eevidence From a National Study, by David L. DuBois & Naida Silverthorn, 2005. American Journal of Public Health, 95(3), 518-524.

7: Safe Space and Shared Interests: YOUmedia Chicago as a Laboratory for Connected Learning, by Kiley Larson, Mizuko Ito, Eric Brown, Mike Hawkins, Nichole Pinkard, and Penny Sebring. DML Research Hub, 2013.

8: Computer Science for the Community: Increasing Equitable Opportunity for Youth Through Libraries. By Marijke Visser and Hai Hong. In Information Literacy: Key to an Inclusive Society. ECIL 2016. Communications in Computer and Information Science, 676.