What are We? Seeing your Mentoring Relationship as a Developmental One
February 3, 2020

Describe your relationship with your mentee. Would you say it’s fun? Positive? Rewarding? What about developmental? The Search Institute describes developmental relationships as

“close connections through which young people discover who they are, cultivate abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them.”  

The Search Institute also describes the building blocks of a solid mentoring relationship as Expressing Care, Challenging Growth, Sharing Power, Providing Support, and Expanding Possibilities. Weaving these ideas into your mentoring relationship can help solidify your connection to your mentee as a developmental relationship.

By using the building blocks of a solid mentoring relationship, you are creating a developmental relationship that can lead to positive, lasting impacts in your mentee’s life. As you nurture a relationship with your mentee, it’s important to focus your efforts towards that developmental relationship versus a prescriptive one. A prescriptive relationship is characterized as one where there is an overt power dynamic, where the adult takes on an authoritative role and possesses the idea that they need to “fix” their mentee. The National Resilience Resource Center in collaboration with the University of Minnesota has researched the key differences between developmental and prescriptive relationships. They highlight the following: 


  • Mentors see themselves as an authority figure.
  • Mentors dictate what goals, values, and behaviors are positive and worth instilling in their mentees .
  • Mentors set the goals and rules within the relationship. 
  • Mentors focus on “fixing” what they perceive as “wrong” with their mentee. 


  • Mentors see themselves as a friend. 
  • Mentors are supportive. 
  • Mentors are focused on building a trusting and deep connection with their mentee. 
  • Mentors share power in making decisions with their mentee.

A key distinction between a prescriptive and developmental relationship is how the power is shared. When you come in with the mindset that you are going to “fix” your mentee, you are ensuring you’ll make the decisions, but missing out on giving your mentee chances to grow from being empowered. Cultivating a developmental relationship with your mentee should be rooted in supporting them, giving them choices, and allowing them to learn (and make mistakes) along the way.

Developmental relationships can lead to positive benefits for mentees. ACT for Youth, an organization that focuses on implementing positive interventions that lead to positive youth development, has compiled research highlighting the various ways children grow from having strong developmental relationships. ACT for Youth summarizes that youth with strong developmental relationships report

“a wide range of social-emotional strengths and competencies. [They] demonstrate academic strengths, civic commitment [and] are more resilient in the face of stress and adversity.” 

By utilizing the building blocks of a great mentoring relationship, you will engage with your mentee in a developmental relationship, and they will have a greater chance of reaching success because you took the time to nurture, listen to, support and empower them. The Search Institute asked young people what made their developmental relationships with their mentors successful. Their responses tell us the mentors who purposefully decided to be listeners, supporters, and co-learners during their developmental relationships, made more meaningful and positive impacts. 

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