• Why we need new models of youth mentoring

    View Jean Rhodes’ Powerpoint to learn about the latest research on youth mentoring and why we need more targeted, skills-based approaches.

  • Program effects have not improved in two decades!

    Meta-analyses present a disappointing trend line. Youth mentoring programs produce small overall effects.

  • Why have program effects failed to improve?

    One factor is that the field of mentoring has tended to focus more on settings and protective factors than risk factors. We need to balance the two.

  • Mentees are really struggling

    Compared to national samples, youth who are referred to mentoring programs are at much higher risk for experiencing difficulties and struggles.

  • Parents sometimes turn to mentoring programs to address mental health struggles

    In more marginalized families, mentoring programs are perceived as an alternative to professional care.

  • This is particularly true for Black caregivers

    A 2019 study found that Black caregivers are twice as likely as White caregivers to turn to mentoring programs to address their children internalizing and externalizing struggles, as they see it as less stigmatizing and more culturally congruent to professional mental health services.

  • Underestimation of mentee risk

    The field of mentoring has underestimated the severity of the problems and circumstances facing many mentees, generally treating mentoring programs as more universal, primary prevention programs. Yet many mentees are experiencing marginalization and relatively high levels of risk and difficulty.

  • Mismatched services

    Not only are many mentoring programs insufficiently targeted to mentee needs and goals, they are redundant with mentees’ other accessible programs and resources. A 2018 national survey indicated that most mentees were already engaged in sports, clubs, etc., had good relationships with their teachers. Clearly parents are looking for something more intensive and specific when they seek out programs.

  • We’re not doing enough to address risks

    A survey of 2,000+ mentors across 30 representative programs found that the most commonly reported mentor activity was “making time to have fun,” followed by talking, hiking, creative activities, etc.

  • Mentor attrition

    Underestimated youth risk combined with this mismatch between what mentees need, what volunteers are being asked to deliver, and what parents are looking for may also help to explain the high volunteer attrition rates youth mentoring programs experience, particularly for higher-risk youth.

  • It’s not what I expected

    Pioneering research by Renee Spencer has elucidated the mismatched expectations among mentors, mentees, and parents.

  • We need to shift from non-specific, friendship models to more targeted approaches

    Findings suggest that programs should be taking a more targeted, skills-based approach.

  • Finding the sweet spot

    A good working relationship is a necessary ingredient but should be combined with targeted, skills-based approaches.

  • Targeted, skills-based approaches yield stronger effects

    The vast majority of mentoring programs take a “nonspecific” friendship approach (i.e., providing support and role modeling that is aimed at broad developmental goals). A summary of evaluations indicates that it is far less effective than a targeted, evidence-based approach.

  • Double to triple effects

    In a recent, “Non-specific versus targeted approaches to youth mentoring: A follow-up meta-analysis” (Christensen et al., in press, Journal of Youth and Adolescence) we found that overall effect size of targeted programs (g = .25) to be more than double that of non-specific relational approaches (g = .11), with a significant moderator effect on academic functioning, psychological symptoms, and social functioning.

  • Mentoring as a context for intervention

    Prevention scientists Tim Cavell and Chris Elledge have argued that the field of youth mentoring should move from the dominant “mentoring-as-relationship” model (i.e., the nonspecific friendship model), where the primary goal is for mentors to form bonds with their mentees, to a “mentoring-as-context” model, where targeted, prevention focused, goal-driven experiences take place within a helping relationship

  • Easier said than done

    Programs serving widely diverse mentees cannot be expected to have access to the full library of targeted, empirically supported interventions at their disposal. Nor can they expect volunteers to deliver them with fidelity.

  • One solution: Technology delivered interventions

    This model shifts mentors’ roles from delivering interventions to supporting and practicing the targeted, evidence-based app-based interventions.

  • The many benefits of mental health and education apps

    When supplemented with support, technology-delivered interventions produce outcomes that rival those of face-to-face interventions, often at no cost and in ways that are more geographically, financially, and socially acceptable to youth and their families.

  • There is widespread access to smartphones

    Over 90% of teens have access to smartphones, and this cuts across race, class, and parental education.

  • Smartphones are the preferred form of communication

    Youth prefer texting to all other forms of communication–even face to face! They are not big fans of email.

  • Unfortunately, it’s hard to engage in self-improvement apps

    Despite this promise, youth and adults alike struggle to remain engaged in self-administered apps, and as many as three-quarters don’t
    complete the recommended number of sessions.

  • Harnessing the science of supportive accountability

    Mentors can help boost engagement through what behavioral scientists refer to as “supportive accountability”—that is, regular check-ins, monitoring, troubleshooting, and other interactions.

  • Practice makes perfect

    Mentors can also help youth personalize and practice new skills. Programs that incorporate practice yield far stronger effects.

  • The supportive accountability model of mentoring

    Compared to self-guided apps, those that incorporate some form of coaching to help users remain actively engaged are far more effective.

  • This model solves two problems

    In a nutshell, we have targeted, evidence-based apps that work best for youth when they are supported by lay coaches; and we have mentoring programs that are in need of targeted, evidence-based interventions.

  • Resilience training

    SuperBetter was designed to “help youth-focused organizations increase resilience, promote social and emotional learning, and reduce student anxiety and depression,” and has shown impressive effects on youth depression levels

  • Wellness apps

    The best mental health apps are digital applications of cognitive behavioral therapy principles, including methods to cope with stress, and techniques such as journaling or tracking thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

  • Intellicare

    Intellicare is a suite of 13 mini-apps that work together to help address common causes of depression and anxiety–like sleep problems, lack of activity, social isolation, and negative thinking. They draw on a range of techniques, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and beyond.

  • Impressive effects

    A recent evaluation of Intellicare showed a 50% reduction in anxiety and depression after 8 weeks–results that are equivalent to in-person therapy (Graham et al., 2020).

  • Specialized dashboard

    Intellicare pioneered an integrated dashboard so mentors and coaches can track and encourage Intellicare app usage.

  • MentorHub dashboard

    MentorHub enables mentors to track usage across multiple apps (not just mental health) so that support is targeted to all youth’s needs and goals.