Spotlight On Youth Mentoring


Men­tor­ing involves a sup­port­ive, car­ing rela­tion­ship between an adult and a young per­son, either estab­lished for­mal­ly through a pro­gram or occur­ring nat­u­ral­ly such as with a neigh­bor or coach. For­mal men­tor­ing rela­tion­ships may be offered through a school‑, com­mu­ni­ty- or faith-based pro­gram. These typ­i­cal­ly match an adult with a youth and cre­ate a struc­tured men­tor­ing expe­ri­ence with orga­nized meet­ings and activ­i­ties. Whether estab­lished for­mal­ly or infor­mal­ly, qual­i­ty men­tor­ing rela­tion­ships help young peo­ple access oppor­tu­ni­ties and offer sup­port and guid­ance as they nav­i­gate life chal­lenges. Men­tors can help close oppor­tu­ni­ty gaps often observed for youth grow­ing up in pover­ty or in dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties by con­nect­ing them with new net­works, resources and pos­si­bil­i­ties that oth­er­wise may not be available.

The research is clearRela­tion­ships play a pow­er­ful role in youth devel­op­ment and suc­cess. Young peo­ple need sta­ble, car­ing rela­tion­ships with adults in order to thrive, and men­tors can pro­vide this cru­cial sup­port. In light of the alarm­ing nation­al youth men­tal health cri­sis, men­tor­ing is poised to be a key part of the solu­tion to this pub­lic health prob­lem. Stud­ies have found that men­tor­ing dur­ing child­hood can strength­en men­tal health.


While men­tor­ing rela­tion­ships have become more com­mon in the last 30 years, new data show a decline in the preva­lence of men­tor­ing. A 2023 nation­al study led by MEN­TOR found that the share of youth ages 18 to 21 who report hav­ing had a men­tor while grow­ing up dropped six per­cent­age points over the past decade, from 66% in 2013 to 60% in 2022. Reports of hav­ing a nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring men­tor, rather than a pro­gram-pro­vid­ed one, dropped by 13 per­cent­age points. More than 1 in 3 (35%) young adults say they grew up with­out the sup­port of any mentor.

The decline is at least par­tial­ly explained by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, which hin­dered youth access to men­tors for long peri­ods of time by clos­ing men­tor­ing pro­grams, schools, after-school and sports pro­grams, com­mu­ni­ty events and oth­er activ­i­ties where youth could encounter men­tors. Extend­ed fam­i­ly gath­er­ings stopped for a peri­od as well. Experts also point to the pandemic’s eco­nom­ic cri­sis and increas­ing socioe­co­nom­ic inequal­i­ty as oth­er pos­si­ble caus­es of the decline, rec­og­niz­ing that adults who are finan­cial­ly strug­gling may not have the time or resources to serve as vol­un­teer mentors.


Across the nation, 86% of chil­dren ages 6 to 17 have at least one adult men­tor in their school, neigh­bor­hood or com­mu­ni­ty who pro­vides advice or guid­ance, accord­ing to the 2022 Nation­al Sur­vey of Children’s Health (NSCH). How­ev­er, access to men­tors varies by socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus, house­hold lan­guage, where chil­dren grow up and oth­er factors.

  • By income lev­el: Chil­dren and youth from low­er-income house­holds are less like­ly to have men­tors than those from more afflu­ent house­holds, a real­i­ty that the NSCH and oth­er stud­ies con­sis­tent­ly demon­strate. For instance, the NSCH found that the share of chil­dren ages 6 to 17 who had a men­tor increased with income lev­el as follows:
    • 77% of kids liv­ing below the fed­er­al pover­ty lev­el (which was $29,678 for a fam­i­ly of two adults and two chil­dren in 2022);
    • 82% of kids between 100% to 199% of the pover­ty level;
    • 88% of kids between 200% to 399% of the pover­ty lev­el; and
    • 92% of kids liv­ing at or above 400% of the pover­ty level.
  • By parental edu­ca­tion lev­el: Children’s access to men­tors also dif­fers great­ly by parental edu­ca­tion lev­el, with men­tors avail­able for about two-thirds (68%) of kids ages 6 to 17 whose par­ents have less than a high school edu­ca­tion com­pared to 91% of kids whose par­ents have a col­lege degree or high­er, accord­ing to 2022 data. 
  • By lan­guage: Chil­dren with a pri­ma­ry house­hold lan­guage oth­er than Eng­lish are much less like­ly to have the sup­port of a men­tor, at 69%, ver­sus 89% for chil­dren ages 6 to 17 in house­holds with Eng­lish as a pri­ma­ry lan­guage in 2022. 
  • For chil­dren of immi­grants: Sim­i­lar­ly, less than 8 in 10 (77%) chil­dren liv­ing with a par­ent born out­side of the U.S. had a men­tor com­pared with 9 in 10 (90%) kids of U.S.-born parents.
  • By state: Look­ing across the coun­try in 2021–2022, youth access to men­tors var­ied wide­ly by state, rang­ing from about three-fourths (76%) of Neva­da teens ages 14 to 17 to near­ly all teens (96%) in North Dako­ta and Mon­tana, accord­ing to NSCH data on the KIDS COUNT® Data Center.


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