Other Youth Topics

Challenges & Lessons Learned

Research suggests that many formal mentoring relationships last less than a few months (Rhodes, 2002), and for the most at-risk youth, that time is even less (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002). Mentoring can be a positive experience for both mentors and mentees, but it can also be challenging; often those challenges lead to the early dissolution of mentoring relationships.

A 2005 survey (MENTOR, 2006) found that adults who mentored youth reported the following challenges:

  • Fourteen percent reported that the mentor expected more from the relationship.
  • Eleven percent reported that the mentee expected too much from the relationship.
  • Eleven percent reported that the mentor and mentee could not build a positive relationship.
  • Seven percent reported a poor match between mentor and mentee.
  • Seven percent reported that the boundaries of the relationship were not clear.
  • Seven percent reported a lack of staff support.
  • Four percent reported ethical issues.
  • Six percent reported disagreements with program staff regarding program rules.
  • Three percent reported that the mentee was resistant.
  • Four percent reported that there were problems with the parents and family.

To address the challenges they faced during mentoring, mentors responded that their experiences could have been improved and challenges overcome in a number of ways including

  • spending more time with the young person (41 percent),
  • having more materials/resources available (35 percent),
  • being better informed/more knowledgeable (31 percent), and
  • receiving better training (30 percent) (MENTOR, 2006).

Providing clear expectations to mentors and describing both the challenges and rewards that are inherent in mentoring relationships can help to sustain involvement. In interviews with mentors, Spencer (2007) found that unfulfilled expectations were contributing factors mentioned for matches ending early. Additional factors that Spencer found led to ending mentoring relationships early included inadequate agency support and deficient relationship skills from mentors. Additional training and support could help to ensure that mentors have the knowledge and resources to overcome the challenge they face.

While it is possible to carefully select mentors, provide support and training, and provide clear expectations, unavoidable situations and life circumstances may occur which challenge the mentor-mentee relationship. Providing clear information from the start about ending relationships appropriately can help to mitigate negative effects and limit abandonment of relationships when they become difficult (Spencer, 2007).


Grossman, J. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring programs. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 199-219.

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)

Rhodes, J. E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today's youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Spencer, R. (2007). “It’s not what I expected”: A qualitative study of youth mentoring relationship failures. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22,331-354.

Spencer, R. (2007). Why youth mentoring relationships end. Research in Action, 5. Retrieved from http://www.mentoring.org/downloads/mentoring_386.pdf (PDF, 20 pages)

Other Resources on this Topic

Technical Assistance