The Benefits of Virtually Mentoring Youth

Posted February 15, 2023, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Black teen male in yellow shirt and orange hat is on his mobile telephone while standing outside.

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

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