The Benefits of Virtually Mentoring Youth
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.
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.