Youth Development

Submitted by the Grizzlies Foundation

The State of Children in Memphis

The Urban Child Institute reports that 39 percent of all children in Shelby County are growing up in poverty which is officially defined by an income level of $23,850 for a family of four. Over 40 percent of these same children live in households that earn $10,000 or less per year. 

Poverty is the single greatest threat to a child's well-being. Children in poverty experience worse health outcomes, face significant obstacles to learning and are less likely to graduate from high school than their more economically advantaged counterparts. 

Recent studies show that upward mobility is largely determined by the networks of relationships a young person can leverage for advancement. It takes a community of caring adults working in concert and with purpose to help young people grow into successful adults. But, these networks are too often non-existent for children in under-served communities.

Mentoring offers a chance to break this insularity and begin a mutually enriching relationship that can help reshape the future for so many young people in Memphis.  Youth who are mentored have better school attendance, a better chance of going on to higher education, and better attitudes – stronger engagement - in school. 

What is a Mentor?

A mentor is a caring adult who devotes time to a young person in a consistent and ongoing manner. Although mentors can fill any number of different roles, all mentors have a shared goal: help young people discover their strengths, meet their potential, and achieve to expectation.

Grizzlies Mentor Cloud 

Grizzlies Mentor Icon Adult ChildMentoring experiences also come in all shapes and sizes. There are formal mentoring opportunities where there is a connection between one caring adult and one young person through an organized program. There are programs that place one adult with up to four children, and those that put several adults with several children. Sometimes youth are mentored informally through a natural connection between themselves and a caring adult, like a relative, a next door neighbor, a teacher or coach, or someone through their place of worship. All can be beneficial if quality processes are followed.

The Data

Mentoring relationships with youth are complex and there is more to be learned about whatGrizzlies Mentor Icon Adult 4Children makes them succeed.  What we know is that mentoring relationships matter to positive youth development. Now, one of the largest mentoring studies ever conducted continues to support this thinking.

A five-year study sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada found that children with mentors were more confident and had fewer behavioral problems. Girls in the study were four times less likely to become bullies than those without a mentor and boys were two times less likely. In general, young people showed increased belief in their abilities to succeed in school and felt less anxiety related to peer pressure.

A study conducted by North Carolina State University showed that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to attend college when they have a mentor. It also showed that less than half of disadvantaged students have any adult mentor and that only seven percent named a teacher as a mentor.

Grizzlies Mentoring Moment

Another study of African America youth conducted by the University of Georgia showed how important mentors were to teens living in hardship. For example, young people who had experienced discrimination, family stressors, and abuse were less likely to break the law or engage in substance abuse if they had a positive mentoring relationship. Again, their mentors provided the relational support to help them believe in their abilities and overcome difficult life challenges.

While many studies have focused on the effects of mentoring disadvantaged teens, we know that ALL teens reap big developmental dividends from nonparent mentoring relationships during their high school years. Regardless of income level, teens grow intellectually, interpersonally, and emotionally from supportive mentors.

Quality Matters

As a strategy for helping young people succeed in school, work and life, mentoring works. It helps give young people the confidence, resources and support they need to achieve their potential. But, the fact is these positive outcomes are only possible when young people are engaged in high-quality mentoring relationships.

The Elements of Effective Practice (EEP) issued by holds the key to success in producing high-quality relationships. The EEP offers evidence-based standards that address six critical dimensions of mentoring program operations:

  1. Recruit appropriate mentors and mentees by realistically describing the program’s aims and expected outcomes.
  2. Screen prospective mentors to determine whether they have the time, commitment and personal qualities to be an effective mentor.
  3. Train prospective mentors in the basic knowledge and skills needed to build an effective mentoring relationship.
  4. Match mentors and mentees along dimensions likely to increase the odds that mentoring relationships will endure.
  5. Monitor mentoring relationship milestones and support mentors with ongoing advice, problem- solving support and training opportunities for the duration of the relationship.
  6. Facilitate bringing the match to closure in a way that affirms the contributions of both the mentor and the mentee and offers both individuals the opportunity to assess the experience.

Together, the standards and benchmarks provide practical guidance on how best to approach the provision of high-quality mentoring in day-to-day operations.