Study suggests that teens prefer adult mentors to peer mentors

Kendal, S., Keeley, P., & Callery, P. (2011). Young people’s preferences for emotional well-being support in high school – a focus group study. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 24, 245-253.

Summarized by Laura Yoviene.

Problem: The promotion of emotional well-being (EWB) of youth is a central focus of youth work in the U.K. and the mental health status of youth is considered to be an important public health concern. Of particular interest are school-based interventions to promote EWB. This study sought information directly from youth about what they believe makes an effective intervention and their preferences with regard to EWB support in the school setting.

Focus groups were conducted at three different high schools in the U.K. with 54 students (11-16 years old) to discuss the content, implementation, and effectiveness of school-based, emotional well-being support. Group facilitators presented the youth a series of hypothetical scenarios regarding how a student who was experiencing trouble (at home/or school) would ask for help, what they would feel comfortable sharing, what would be helpful to them, and what would be different if they felt better. The data from the group discussions were then analyzed via a thematic content analysis in order to create a stable group of conceptual themes.

Students expressed that they desire both practical and emotional support from helpers. Friendliness and trustworthiness, as well as prior experience to increase credibility were important characteristics teens identified in a helper. Students reported a preference for adult helpers and/or mentors compared with peer mentors, as peer mentors were perceived to be less dependable. Many youth feared gossip and rumors, so a major concern was confidentiality and control over the information they chose to disclose. Youth cited a need for assistance with skills to cope with peer pressure, emotional support to manage feelings of alienation, and with more practical problems, such as struggling with school work.

Overall, the students in the study provided some valuable insight into what could be helpful to inform EWB support and programs in the high school setting. Specifically, the themes of content and delivery of emotional well-being support were shown to be interconnected, such that students were more receptive to forms of practical advice if it was delivered in a friendly and respectful manner. Additionally, the concept of privacy emerged as new concern in help-seeking behavior which will be useful for future EWB programs to address.

Implications for Mentoring:
This study highlighted students’ preferences for adult helpers from outside the school context, over teachers and peer mentors. This supports the use of adult mentors as an intervention in supporting teens’ emotional well-being. Accordingly, teens’ desire for both emotional and practical support while still having their privacy protected are important considerations for mentors to utilize in their relationships with their mentees.