The benefits of youth-initiated mentoring

Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) is a technique used by mentoring programs where youth recruit their own mentors from their personal networks rather than have a mentor assigned through the agency.

Mentoring programs can utilize this approach by inviting their mentees to explore mentor options beyond the mentoring site. Mentees can suggest people from their own social networks (such as coaches, teachers, family, friends, etc.) to become their mentors, and form close relationships with people with whom they already have an interpersonal connection. The program would then connect with the mentor candidate and work with him or her to form a close match.

While initial research has been completed with older mentors and adolescents, the program could be used with adult populations to help encourage self-advocacy and effective networking. For younger populations, it is best to encourage parents and guardians to tap into their own social networks.

The YIM technique was proven effective in a study (Schwartz, S., Rhodes, J., Spencer, R., & Grossman, J. (in press.) Youth initiated mentoring: Investigating a new approach to working with vulnerable adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology. (2013)) involving 1,000 youth from different mentoring sites. 55 percent of the youth chose mentors from their personal networks, while the other 45 percent received help from parents, guardians or program staff. The results show that while the mentee relationships with assigned mentors decreased dramatically, the number of YIM matches decreased the least: 1 in 2 mentees were still in contact with their mentors even after programming.

With the YIM Model, mentees can effectively communicate what they want in a mentor, identify potential candidates, and actively seek them out in the community. Mentees voiced positive feedback for their mentors, particularly for their social-emotional support (showing reliable, caring, and consistent behavior), the guidance and encouragement to stay on track with goals and good habits, and instrumental assistance (helping to find a job, life skills, etc.). These qualities helped to enhance rapport and establish a stronger relationship between matches.

For more on youth initiated mentoring, check out the posts on the Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring