Other Youth Topics

Adult Mentor Characteristics

While any adult can act as a youth mentor, a 2005 national survey found some differences between adults who participated in youth mentoring and those who did not (MENTOR, 2006).


  • Young adults ages 18 to 24 and middle-aged adults ages 35 to 54 had the highest rates for mentoring young people.
  • Adults 65 and over were the least likely group to mentor young people.

Education and Employment

  • Adults with higher levels of education are more likely to become mentors than adults with high school diplomas or less.
  • Thirty-five percent of adults who had received a post-graduate degree indicated that they participated in mentoring, compared to 26 percent of adults who received a high-school education or less.
  • Thirty-seven percent of adults who worked part time reported that they participated in mentoring youth, compared to 32 percent of adults working full time and 22 percent of adults who were unemployed.


  • In 2002, women reported that they participated in mentoring significantly more than men.
  • From 2002-2005, the number of women participating in mentoring declined, while the number of men participating in mentoring remained relatively steady. This resulted in a higher percentage of men (31 percent) reporting that they participated in mentoring in 2005 than women (27 percent).


  • Thirty-five percent of non-whites reported that they participated in youth mentoring during 2005, compared to 28 percent of whites.
  • Participation in mentoring by race reflects a similar trend as gender with a lower number of non-whites reporting that they participated in mentoring during 2005 compared to 2002, but a similar number of white adults indicating that they mentored during 2002 and 2005.

Research on the benefits of same gender and same race mentor-mentee relationships has been inconclusive (same gender) and has not been shown to be a significant factor in enhancing close emotional relationships between mentors and mentees (same race and ethnicity) (Darling, Bogat, Cavell, Murphy, & Sanchez, 2006; Rhodes, Reddy, Grossman, & Lee, 2003; Sanchez & Colon, 2005). Despite this, research has found that same gender and same race mentor and mentee pairs are more typical in naturally occurring mentoring relationships (Chen, Greenberger, Farruggia, Bush, & Dong, 2003; Darling et al., 2006).  While these results are inconclusive, research and practice suggests key attributes that have been associated with successful mentors and should be considered during the matching of mentors and mentees (MENTOR, 2009). These are

  • the ability to listen and to offer friendship, guidance, and encouragement to a young person (National Mentoring Month Campaign, n.d.);
  • a genuine desire to be involved and help youth;
  • respect for youth and their cultures and backgrounds (Hirsch, 2005);
  • empathy and authenticity (Spencer, 2006);
  • compatible personalities, interests, and expectations (Bernier & Larose, 2005; Madia & Lutz, 2004);
  • prior experience in helping roles or occupations (DuBois, Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper, 2002);
  • flexibility and openness; and
  • the ability to see solutions and opportunities and help youth to see them as well (MENTOR, n.d.).


Bernier, A. & Larose, S. (2005). Academic mentoring in college: The interactive role of student’s and mentor’s interpersonal dispositions. Research in Higher Education, 46, 29-51.

Chen, C., Greenberger, E., Farruggia, S., Bush, K., & Dong, Q. (2003). Beyond parents and peers: The role of important non-parental adults (VIPS) in adolescent development in China and the United States. Psychology in the Schools, 40(1).

Darling, N., Bogat, G. A., Cavell, T., Murphy, S. E., & Sanchez, B. (2006). Gender, ethnicity, development and risk: Mentoring and the considerations of individual differences. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(6), 765-779.

DuBois, D. L., Holloway, B. E., Valentine, J. C., & Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of mentoring   programs for youth: A meta analytic review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 157-197

Hirsch, B. J. (2005). A place to call home: After-school programs for urban youth. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, and New York: Teachers College Press.

Madia, B. P., & Lutz, C. J. (2004). Perceived similarity, expectation-reality discrepancies, and mentors’ expressed intention to remain in Big Brothers/Big Sisters Programs. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34, 598-623.

MENTOR. (n.d.). Become a mentor. Retrieved from http://www.mentoring.org/get_involved/become_a_mentor

MENTOR. (2006) Mentoring in America 2005: A snapshot of the current state of mentoring. Retrieved from http://www.mentoring.org/downloads/mentoring_333.pdf (PDF, 20 pages)

MENTOR. (2009). Elements of effective practice in mentoring. Third Edition. Retrieved from http://www.mentoring.org/downloads/mentoring_1222.pdf (PDF, 28 pages)

National Mentoring Month Campaign (n.d.) Become a mentor. Retrieved from http://www.nationalmentoringmonth.org/take_action/becomeamentor/

Rhodes, J. E., Reddy, R., Grossman, J. B., Lee, J. M. (2003). Same versus cross-race matches in mentoring programs: A comparison. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 32, 2114-2133.

Sanchez, B., & Colon, Y. (2005). Race, ethnicity, and culture in mentoring relationships. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (pp. 191-204). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Spencer, R. (2006). Understanding the mentoring process between adolescents and adults. Youth Society, 37, 287-315.

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