Mentoring helps youth plan for the future: New research

Lau, W. S., Zhou, X. C., & Lai, S. M. (2017). The development of mentoring‐relationship quality, future‐planning style, and career goal setting among adolescents from a disadvantaged background. PsyCh Journal6(1), 76-82.

Summarized by Kirsten Christensen

 

Introduction

Adolescents’ ability to plan for the future can be an important protective factor that increases life chances, promotes healthy behaviors, and decreases problematic behaviors. Further, an adolescent’s ability to self-regulate is a strong predictor of youth development, particularly for youth living with difficult life situations.

According to a theory by Miller and Brickman (2004), three obstacles to developing future planning, goal setting, and self-regulation abilities often arise for youth. First, youth with higher socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to think further into their futures than their low SES counterparts. Second, competing value systems can also affect an adolescents’ ability to engage in self-regulatory processes such as future planning.

For example, an adolescent with less privilege may place more value on work activities than academic or social activities because of their contextual financial difficulties. Finally, an adolescent’s belief that they are incapable of accomplishing a goal can significantly lower their chances for goal achievement and motivation to pursue goals.

It is likely that social relationships and experiences can be an opportunity for youth to overcome some of these obstacles and learn self-regulation skills from adults, such as in a mentoring relationship. Mentors foster youths’ emotional, cognitive, and identity development, and “can act as a ‘social mirror’ to reflect possible selves to the adolescents, so that adolescents might better understand the possibilities of their own future” (Lau et al., 2017, p. 77).

The current study addresses a gap in the literature by investigating the role of mentoring relationship quality on future planning style and career goal setting on disadvantaged adolescents in a Chinese society. In the current study, the authors hypothesize that (1) adolescents’ participating in the Child Development Fund (CDF; a poverty alleviation project with a mentorship program implemented by the Hong Kong government) who have high quality mentoring relationships will display better self-regulation related processes such as future planning style and career goal setting self-efficacy than adolescents who had low quality mentoring relationships as well as the comparison group over time and (2) low mentoring relationship quality has a significant effect on future planning style and career goal setting.

 

Method

Participants in the final sample of this study included 187 CDF youth along with 208 comparison group participants. Participants ranged in age from 10 to 16 years old at the beginning of the study, and all participants came from disadvantaged backgrounds as measured by receipt of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, receipt of full grants from the Student Financial Assistance Agency, or household income (i.e., <75% of the Median Monthly Domestic Household Income).

Surveys measuring mentor relationship quality (MRQ), future planning style, and career goal-setting self-efficacy were administered to participants at four time points (Time 1 = beginning of CDF project; Time 2, 3, 4 = first, second, and third years of the CDF projects, respectively).

 

Results

The researchers conducted repeated measures analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) to investigate the longitudinal effects of participating in the CDF on future planning style and career goal setting self-efficacy among youth with high MRQ, low MRQ, and comparison youth. To assess the associations of MRQ with future planning style and career foal setting self-efficacy among CDF participants, the researchers utilized multiple regression analyses.

The ANCOVA analysis revealed a MRQ group main effect for future planning style and a MRQ group X Time interaction effect, indicating that participants with high MRQ had better future planning style than those with low MRQ at Time 1, 2, and 4 and comparison youth at Time 2, 3, and 4. Not only did these results reveal that participants with high MRQ generally had better future planning styles, but they were also consistently found to excel when compared with the comparison group.

Multiple regression analyses (i.e., MRQ scores across time as predictors, future planning style and career goal setting self-efficacy as outcomes) revealed that average MRQ was a significant predictor for both future planning style and career goal setting self-efficacy.

 

Discussion and Conclusion

From the study findings, the researchers conclude that higher MRQ is associated with higher career goal setting self-efficacy, such that youth with high quality mentoring relationships have better overall future planning abilities and higher career goal setting self-efficacy than their low-quality relationship and comparison youth counterparts.

The researchers argue that youth can partner with adults in their social networks (i.e., mentors) to capitalize on the resources that are available to them. Mentors can promote self-regulatory skills in a youth specifically by providing feedback to disadvantaged youths that prompts reflection on their behaviors and goals.

Under this support and guidance, mentors are able to facilitate future planning skills in disadvantaged youth, perhaps by increasing youths’ perceived control, personal mastery, and contextual constraints.

These findings suggest a need for research to continue examining the effect of mentor relationship quality on a host of self-regulatory outcomes, and how the objectives, length, and intensity of the relationship influences these outcomes.

Another direction for future research is to explore whether these effects are long-term, and if they persist even after the mentoring program or relationship is complete. Most importantly, the findings from this study suggest that providing youth with opportunities to develop mentoring relationships is not always enough – the relationships must be high in quality to have a meaningful impact.

 

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