Mentors are Necessary: The Need for Mentors to Underserved Children

Hi everyone!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the lab but I am back and have lots to talk about. Last time I had some pretty exciting results to share with y’all and next week I’ll have some more findings to talk about. This week I wanted to take a quick step back from my data and discuss the necessity of mentoring as a whole.

Prior to my work with Dr. Raposa, I didn’t think much about the concept of a mentor. I knew that mentors were good (I always thought about one of my coaches in high school), but that was as much as I’d ever considered it.  

However, after a few months of work on her study, I began to realize how tremendously important mentors are, particularly in at-risk communities. Research in attachment indicates that a secure relationship with an adult informs children’s  ideas about relationships with peers and other adults (Ainsworth, 1989, Bowlby 1988). These ideas and experiences lay the foundation upon which children build all other relationships. In cases where a child lacks a consistent and secure attachment figure within the home, a mentor can bridge that gap and provide support for the youth to thrive relationally (Rhodes, J. E., Spencer, R. , Keller, T. E., Liang, B. and Noam, G., 2006). The emotional security and support provided by a mentor positively impact youth social, academic, and relational realms. The presence of an unconditional support system allows children to confidently interact with and learn in their environment: mentored youth are more likely to experience increases in self-confidence, academic performance, and intimacy and trust with parents (Rhodes, J. E., Spencer, R. , Keller, T. E., Liang, B. and Noam, G., 2006).

In the United States, 21% of all children live below the federal poverty threshold (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2018). These children are at risk for educational and behavioral challenges and failure and often lack familial support. When these children enter the public school system, they often struggle to succeed. Given these challenges, many educators and administrators use mentoring programs as academic, behavioral, and social interventions.

For many of these children, the presence of a mentor can mean the difference between academic and social success and failure. Mentors to these children act as meaningful and necessary constants in turbulent and stressful homes and lives. This quick video from MENTOR, the national center for quality and evidence based mentoring, helps explain the incredible impact that mentors can have in the lives of children. If you would like to know more about mentorship or potentially becoming a mentor, feel free to reach out in the comments! Most colleges offer mentoring partnerships with local public schools (William & Mary’s is called Griffin School Partnerships) and it’s quite easy to get involved.

References & Further Reading

Ainsworth, M. D. (1989). Attachment beyond infancy. American Psychol- ogist, 44, 709–716. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.44.4.709

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York, NY: Basic Books.

DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Supplement, 12(2), 57-91. DOI: 10.1177/1529100611414806

National Center for Children in Poverty. (2018). Child Poverty. Retrieved 2018, from

Rhodes, J. E., Spencer, R. , Keller, T. E., Liang, B. and Noam, G. (2006), A model for the influence of mentoring relationships on youth development. J. Community Psychol., 34: 691-707. doi:10.1002/jcop.20124


  1. John Li says:

    This was eye opening post, thank you for sharing. It is truly a shame that some children lack figures that are essential in helping to guide the child in life. I found it interesting how mentors are able to have such a large impact in directing a child’s growth, especially since I’ve always considered mentoring as more of a supplementary option to help a child with minor issues, rather than someone that offers a large amount of guidance and influence in a child’s life.

  2. empeairs says:

    This research sounds really interesting! Have you looked at whether the type of mentors (in gender, ethnicity, culture, or background) affect how helpful the mentoring is? Thanks for all the further reading!

  3. egpreston says:

    @empeairs Yes we have looked at some demographic information–the data actually show that youth demographics play a much larger role in the relationship than mentor demographics. Youth gender specifically tends to play a significant role in predicting relational outcomes.

  4. Charles P says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful overview on the importance of mentors and the impact they can make. Getting the word out here is great…