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“Listening In”: Improving the Science and Practice of Mentoring Through Naturalistic Observations of Mentor–Mentee Relationships


Theory and empirical evidence indicate that the quality of relationships between mentors and youth is critical to determining the effects that mentoring programs have on youth participants. However, studies of mentoring programs have relied almost exclusively on self-reports of the quality of the mentoring relationship. The goals of the current paper are to discuss the limitations of exclusively relying on self-reports to measure relationship quality, argue for the necessity of incorporating naturalistic observations into measurement, and propose a specific framework for naturalistic observation and rating of these relationships.


  • It is critical to include observations of mentoring in addition to self-reports.

  • Self-reports are limited and can be biased.

  • We introduce an innovative system for naturalistic observations of mentoring.

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The work in this manuscript was supported by the William T. Grant Foundation; sponsors were not involved in study design, data collection, interpretation, or writing related to the current project, nor were they involved in the decision to submit this article for publication.

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Correspondence to Rachel G. Lucas-Thompson.

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Conflict of Interest

Drs. L. W., S. H., T. Z., and J. K. report that they have a financial interest in Campus Connections and receive a royalty when the program is licensed and sold to interested parties (e.g., universities).

Ethical Approval

All procedures were reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board at Colorado State University.

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Informed consent and assent was obtained from parents, mentors, and adolescent mentees, respectively.

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Lucas-Thompson, R.G., Weiler, L.M., Haddock, S.A. et al. “Listening In”: Improving the Science and Practice of Mentoring Through Naturalistic Observations of Mentor–Mentee Relationships. J Child Fam Stud 30, 253–262 (2021).

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  • Mentoring
  • Relationship quality
  • Observations
  • Self-reports
  • Naturalistic