The primary focus of teen mentoring programs is to provide the structure, activities and space for mentors and mentees to develop strong, positive relationships. Regular match meetings and activities are an integral aspect of teen mentoring programs and when structured and planned appropriately, provide mentors and mentees with the opportunity to build friendships based on trust and confidence.
Many teen mentoring programs meet as a group to help build a sense of community and allow for sharing of supplies and increased staff support and supervision. A major advantage of a group component is that if mentees do not connect with their one-to-one mentor, or if a participant is absent, they remain involved in the mentoring program with opportunities to connect with others22. However, it is still important that if the primary relationship is a one-to-one match between a mentor and a mentee, that mentors are provided with ample opportunity to focus their attention on their mentees to promote deeper levels of connection and engagement. This type of meeting structure may require significant supervision to ensure that the high school volunteers focus attention on their mentees opposed to their own peers14.
Program goals, as determined in the planning phase and evaluated throughout the program life, are supported through a variety of structured activities that mainly focus on the development of trusting, supportive relationships between the mentors and mentees4.
- In the beginning, staff, mentors and mentees should choose activities that focus on getting to know each other and building trust. Examples may include icebreakers, interviews, team games, or completing tasks and challenges together22.
- As the match progresses, activities can focus on developing skills, setting individual and match goals, addressing the strengths and needs of the participants and achieving the program’s goals and intended outcomes. Check in with mentors to see if there are specific issues that are coming up, such as bullying or peer pressure, and find activities that relate to these issues4. Activities may be curriculum-driven sessions, planned special events, meaningful service learning projects and informal meetings.
- Students also benefit from informal opportunities to hang out between classes, during lunch, and when participating in extracurricular and other school activities9.
Many teen mentoring programs use a curriculum or activity guide, but the emphasis should remain on fun and personal interactions4. The parameters of the teen mentoring program (e.g. when, where and how often matches meet) should be structured, as structure can double the impact of most mentoring programs20. However, it is important that the interactions and activities are not overly prescriptive, remedial, or task focused9. If the program is designed based on a curriculum, allow time for matches to interact freely to provide opportunities for the relationship to develop4. It is important that teen mentoring programs provide matches with enough structure to keep the matches actively engaged, but that the mentors’ focus is on building a strong relationship. Mentors should be trained and coached to emphasize the importance of an empathetic, supportive relationship over an emphasis on task completion.
There are many resources, activity guides, community agencies and books available with ideas for match activities. The Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities Activity Guide can be adapted for your program. You can download or order the Teen Mentoring Handbook and Activity Book as a resource.
Tips for Planning Match Activities:
- Encourage mentors and mentees to plan their own activities to help them build leadership, decision-making and goal-setting skills as well as to ensure they are engaged and having fun. If activities are completed as a group, encourage matches to lead activities with staff guidance.
- Infuse skill building into fun, developmental activities. For example, have mentors and mentees work on academic skills by learning new card games, working on a journal, or preparing drama skits together rather than providing workbooks or doing homework assignments together.
- Incorporate activities that support the goals of the program without being too prescriptive. For example, if the goal of a program is to address relational aggression, plan activities that promote positive group interactions, communication, and the use of the group as support.
- Ensure that activities are socially and culturally relevant and accessible.
- Ensure that the activities highlight the skills, interests and strengths of the mentors and mentees.
- Ensure that confidentiality is established and maintained.
- If the mentors and mentees meet in a group setting, adults from the community may be invited to provide information on health, addictions, relationships, or professional career choices.
- Have supplies available. Staff and/ or mentors can be responsible for planning ahead and bringing needed supplies, or matches can have open access to games, craft supplies, gym equipment, and computers.