New research: Mentors help steady the ship for adolescent girls

Liang, B., Lund, T. J., Desilva Mousseau, A. M., & Spencer, R. (2016). The mediating role of engagement in mentoring relationships and self-esteem among affluent adolescent girls. Psychology in the Schools, 53(8), 848-860. DOI: 10.1002/pits.21949

Summarized by Jessica Cunningham

 

Background:

Affluent youth are typically considered to be “low-risk” when it comes to negative outcomes, but recent research has shown that they experience depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues at higher rates than their lower-income cohorts. This is especially true of affluent adolescent girls, who face enormous pressure from the adults in their lives to be perfect in terms of academics and extra-curricular activities in order to get into elite colleges and maintain their socioeconomic status.

Adolescents who are motivated by extrinsic goals tend to have less stable identities and lower self-esteem, but mentors may be able to help affluent youth to identify intrinsic goals and a more stable sense of self-esteem. The authors of the present study hypothesized that growth-fostering mentoring relationships would be associated with self-esteem and that engagement in purposeful activities would act as a mediator for this relationship.

Method:

Participants in this study were 207 adolescent girls in 6th, 8th, and 10th grade from two private all-girls’ schools in affluent suburbs of major cities. Data were collected across an 18 months span with four collection points during the school year. 85% of participants identified as Caucasian, 7% as African American, 8% identified as some other race and 1% of participants did not respond. Most students in the sample reported family annual incomes that were two to five times higher than the U.S. median income of $53,657. Students completed questionnaires online while at school.

To measure self-esteem, the authors deployed Rosenbergs’ Self-Esteem Scale which asks participants to rate the degree to which they agree or disagree with 10 statements using a 5 point Likert scale. Engagement in purposeful activity was assessed using a five-item subscale from the COA Revised Youth Purpose Survey.

Girls were asked to identify a mentor and were then asked to complete the 5-item mentoring subscale from the Relational Health Indices Youth Version in order to assess the growth-fostering qualities of the mentoring relationship.

The authors used a MANOVA to examine differences in scores for mentoring relationships, self-esteem, and engagement in purpose as a function of school grade. The authors then conducted regression analyses to determine if engagement in purposeful activities mediated the role of mentoring’s impact on self-esteem.

Results:

Grade had a significant impact on self-esteem; girls in 10th grade reported significantly lower self-esteem than their peers in lower grades, but there were no differences between 6th and 8th graders. Growth-fostering mentoring relationships, self-esteem, and engagement in purposeful activity were all positively associated with each other.

In terms of the regression analyses, growth-fostering mentoring relationships significantly predicted levels of self-esteem, but when engagement in purposeful activities was added to the model, engagement became the sole predictor of self-esteem. Therefore, engagement in purpose fully mediated the association between growth-fostering mentoring relationships and self-esteem.

Discussion:

To sum up, the authors found that their hypotheses were supported; engagement in purposeful activities mediated the role of growth-fostering mentoring relationships on affluent adolescent girls’ self-esteem. However, these results should be taken with some caution; because the data collected for this study was cross-sectional in nature, it is not possible to determine the order in which mentoring and purposeful activities execute their influence on self-esteem.

Future research should attempt to use longitudinal methods to determine the order in which these occur, and whether or not purposeful activity contained within the context of a mentoring relationship plays a different role than engagement outside of one. In terms of suggestions for practitioners, the authors recommend that: “in the hyper-achieving, competitive, materialistic subculture of upwardly mobile communities, schools may do well to de-emphasize extrinsic success often associated with decreased well-being and self-esteem.”

In terms of practical implementations of this advice, they believe that fostering mentoring relationships within the school environment as well as promoting youth engagement in volunteer organizations may help to counterbalance the negative impacts of performance-driven expectations.

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