Combining mentoring with structured group activities: A potential after-school context for fostering relationships between girls and mentors
summarized by UMass Boston clinical psychology student Laura Yoviene
Most after-school programs are activity-oriented and aim to serve a specific purpose (i.e., sports, gang prevention), whereas mentoring programs offer a more relationally based intervention and have been linked to a myriad of positive youth outcomes. Accordingly, with more than 3 million youth across the country participating in youth mentoring (Mentor, 2006), new program formats are in demand. Thus, Deutsch and colleagues examine a program for early adolescent girls, which purposefully combines individual mentoring with structured group activities; they place a specific focus on evaluating the social processes of group settings that may either help or hinder both group and one-on-one relationship functioning in terms of connection and satisfaction.
This mixed-methods study explores how one-on-one mentoring combined with a structured group activity component may lead to the development of connection and satisfaction in the mentor-youth relationship. This study examined 8 groups across 4 different schools, which were all a part of the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP), in which female college mentors are paired with 7th grade girls for 1 year (n = 78 mentees; n = 68 mentors). The pairs met with a group of 8-10 pairs weekly at the mentees’ school, and then met individually for about 4 hours per month. Youth were selected by being identified as at-risk academically, socioemotionally, or behaviorally.
The 2-hour group component consisted of various activities including: sharing “highs” and “lows” of the week, “star time” in which group members stated something they were proud of, and “sister time” which was one-on-one time with their mentor. Self-report measures were used to capture the both mentor and mentee’s experiences in the group component as well as the mentee’s perception of the mentoring relationship quality. Observations were used to determine levels of connection in both the mentor-mentee dyad and various interactions in the group (i.e., reaching out, caretaking/support, trust building) and disconnection (i.e., rejections, confrontation, and isolation).
High levels of connectedness were prevalent in all groups, however, the frequency of specific social processes led to important differences in groups based on levels of relationship satisfaction.
Groups with higher levels of relational satisfaction demonstrated:
- greater overall levels of connection
- greater caretaking and supportive behavior (empathy, active listening, affection)
- trust-building (sharing of personal stories, offering emotional support, encouraging to share and be open)
Groups with lower levels of relational satisfaction demonstrated:
- superficial expressions of support (such as “good job” but no further engagement or follow-up)
- higher occurrence of disconnection (ranging from a girl rolling her eyes to a mentee/mentor ignoring a fellow group member)
- greater confrontation (conflicts were more likely to be ignored as opposed to using it as an example)
- disengagement (cliques of mentees disengaging from the group, or attempts to engage are ignored)
- more acts of fun and reaching out (i.e., greeting each other, smiling, expressing a desire to be together, and engaging in conversations but not revealing emotional or personal information)
- reaching out was met with acts of rejection for over 50% of the observations (compared to only 14% in the high relational satisfaction group)
Overall, this study shows how adding an activity-driven group component to a mentoring program can foster a sense of connection and be beneficial to both the one-on-one and group relationship satisfaction. Specifically, this study demonstrates the importance of being responsive to the needs of the girls, as shown by the increased satisfaction in groups with higher levels of caretaking and supportive behaviors.
A major advantage of the group component is that if mentees do not connect with their mentor, they may remain involved in the mentoring program due to opportunities for connection with others in the group. The presence of peers may also act as an incentive for youth to participate in mentoring programs.
It is important to consider, however, that a group component may also hinder connection and relationship satisfaction. For instance, how connection and disengagement can co-occur, working against one another – such as interacting in small cliques at the expense of overall group cohesion. Additionally, on the surface acts of fun may be a positive social process, but in the absence of deeper levels of connection found through caretaking and trust-building, fun may actually interfere as it increases opportunities for disengagement in both the group and the mentor-mentee dyad.
Thus, Deutsch and colleagues emphasize group facilitators are important in combating these negative group behaviors; specific attention to training facilitators on the skills of scaffolding, conflict resolution, redirection, active listening, and questioning are key for promoting a more positive social climate and sense of connection.