New research asks mentors to reflect on their perceptions of youth and the mentor role

Lakind, D., Akins, M., & Eddy, J. M. (2015). Youth mentoring relationships in context: Mentor perceptions of youth, environment, and the mentor role. Children and Youth Services Review, 53, 52-60.

 

Summarized by Umass Boston clinical psychology graduate student, Samantha Burton

 

Introduction:

Mentors’ perceptions of their mentees can influence the length of the mentoring relationship, their mentoring approach, and the choices they make with regard to the relationship. Therefore, mentors’ perceptions can meaningfully impact youth and mentoring relationship outcomes, and these perceptions are likely shaped, in part, by the mentee’s background and environmental context. Many children are assigned to mentoring programs because they have heightened risk profiles, and the stressors they face may make it more challenging to work with and form relationships with them. Navigating environmental factors, including mentee’s homes, schools and communities, can be challenging for mentors. However, engaging and attending to contextual factors may be especially important for children who grow up in challenging environments. In the current study, Lakind, Atkins, and Eddy investigate how mentors working with children who experience high levels of environmental risk perceive these environmental factors and negotiate their interactions with other individuals in their mentee’s life. In their previous work, these researchers found that mentors, who were full-time, salaried, professional mentors, identified a crucial aspect of their role as interacting with other individuals in the mentee’s life (e.g. family members, teachers, other service providers). The researchers posit that, while volunteer mentors who encounter challenges related to mentee environmental factors might choose to disengage from mentee’s environments and focus solely on their relationships with the youth, professional mentors might feel more inclined to engage in mentee’s environments, regardless of any discomfort they may feel. The current study build upon these findings by examining how mentors perceptions of their mentees’ environments inform how mentors navigate those environments and interact with individuals in their mentees’ lives.

 

Method:

Mentors were employed by the New York City “chapter” of Friends of the Children (FOTC), an international network of independent nonprofit organizations. The most highly at-risk children, who have a high number of individual and environmental risk factors and a low number of protective factors, were involved in the mentoring program. Mentors were matched with 8-12 youth. The current study utilized data from semi-structured interviews conducted with 9 of the full-time, salaried, “professional” mentors, who had been in the mentor role for at least a year. Researchers coded the interviews into categories of responses.

 

Results:

  • Mentors identified environmental risk factors in their mentees’ lives, such as pressure from peers to become involved in risky activities, as well as a lack of structure and support in schools
  • Mentors identified a number of individual protective factors that youth possessed, including resilience, humor, kindness, and being hard workers.
  • Mentors described the critical components of their relationships as participating in activities with youth, maintaining their relationships long-term, and entering into home, school, and community settings. By joining youth in these settings, mentors were able to gain insight into mentees’ lives, identify their needs, and build closer relationships.
  • Mentors discussed different roles they had with regard to interactions with other adults in the mentee’s life. They talked about advocating for youth in school and other settings, serving as liaisons between home and school, and becoming close with their mentee’s families. Mentors also described feeling frustrated by other decision-makers in youths’ lives and having to negotiate boundaries with mentees’ families.
  • Mentors described the challenge of identifying and maintaining appropriate boundaries and role definition given mentoring’s flexible and individualized nature.

 

Implications:

Lakind, Atkins, and Eddy’s study uses qualitative methods to explore how mentors’ perceptions of their mentees’ environmental contexts impact their understanding of their role as mentors. A key finding was mentors’ consistent reporting of the importance of engaging in mentees’ environments and working with the other adults in their lives. Regardless of whether these interactions were experienced by mentors as effective partnerships or as counteracting the work they were doing, all identified these interactions as necessary in order to best serve their mentees. The closeness and authenticity of the mentoring relationship may be enhanced through the mentor’s involvement in the mentee’s home, school, and community contexts. This study points to additional roles that the mentor may need to take on and the necessity of forming relationships with other individuals in the mentee’s life. Mentors may benefit from additional training regarding these additional roles and relationships, and the importance of engaging in them, rather than only focusing on their mentee. Programs may need to provide mentors with more support around these roles, and encourage mentors to serve their mentees through working with others in their lives. By better understanding mentees’ environments and the supports they do or do not have, mentors can serve mentees more effectively and work towards positive youth outcomes.

To access the original article, click here.

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