Professional Development

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Meet Young People Where They Are Through E-Mentoring

One of the main tenets of youth development is meeting young people where they are—in their development, interests, experiences and spaces. With the ubiquitous use of the internet, cellphones and social media among young people, adults need to consider translating traditional programs to digital technology, to meet youth where they are.

According to MENTOR's Supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, e-mentoring—sometimes referred to as electronic, digital, online, virtual or computer-assisted mentoring—includes any type of mentoring that incorporates digital technology. This type of mentoring has grown in popularity over recent decades, unsurprisingly partnered with young people's use of the internet, cellphones and social media.

The National Mentoring Resource Center Model Review on E-mentoring says this method is so compelling because it can transcend geographical and physical distance between people; allow communicators to overcome constraints associated with in-person meetings, such as scheduling or travel; and build social capital for young people who don't have it in close physical proximity. The review also notes e-mentoring strategies are increasingly appealing for reaching youth in rural areas, those with chronic illness, those interested in pursuing certain professions or higher education, and those with disabilities.

The goals of e-mentoring programs are often similar to in-person mentoring programs, such as improving academic outcomes. The MENTOR supplement notes e-mentoring specifically seeks to connect mentees with mentors who fill certain uncommon characteristics, such as sharing a similar skill, interest or characteristic—even if they live far away. It also points out the possibility of e-mentoring being used as an equity tool because of these capabilities.

Some e-mentoring programs focus on providing specific academic support or career exploration experiences, in addition to assisting with higher education transition, especially for youth without easy access to university campuses. All of a sudden, scholars and academics could become mentors to youth who otherwise may not have had the chance to hear this subject-matter expertise. E-mentoring also seeks to help youth build their online communication abilities, teaching them how to engage new people and build relationships with diverse individuals—a critical skill to possess in today's world.

For successful e-mentoring, programs must implement some form of ICT: information and communication technology. The MENTOR supplement indicates this could include email between a mentor and mentee; texting via cellphone; chatting using a messenger program or social media; video conferencing through Skype, FaceTime, or another video call platform; and posting messages to digital bulletin boards or forums. Findings suggest that ICTs, particularly mobile phones, are an effective way to reach young people and to increase their knowledge.

The MENTOR supplement outlines various recommendations in specific theme areas that can support e-mentoring programs as they implement services and build strong online or virtual relationships:

  • Choosing or Building the Right Technology for the Program
  • Recruiting and Matching the Right Participants
  • Preparing Participants for Good Online Interactions
  • Ensuring Safe and Effective Participation Over Time

Though e-mentoring does come with its own set of challenges—such as access to ICTs and technological support and literacy—that doesn't diminish the vast opportunities for e-mentoring implementation and practice to meet young people wherever they happen to be.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for AfterSchool Today.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of AfterSchool Today.