Finding purpose during times of adversity: The MentorOn program

Patel, K. N., Lincoln, B., Gomez, L. A. M., Lopez, A. C., Ting, T., Lund, T. J., & Liang, B. (2023). MentorOn: A peer mentoring program developed for COVID‐19 times. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Megyn Jasman and Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has brought up several concerns about youth and adolescents’ well-being and social functioning. Innovative interventions are needed to support this population’s development.
  • Positive peer relationships are one mechanism that impacts positive youth development and various other beneficial outcomes (e.g., school belonging and social competence).
  • This qualitative study evaluated user reactions to MentorON (a virtual mentoring platform that connects elementary/middle school students to high school mentors via videoconferencing) and how it affected their development.
  • It utilized the Self-Determination Theory lens, which proposes that individuals have basic psychological needs for relatedness, autonomy, and competence.
  • Three themes emerged from the interviews:
    • Social connection – reported feelings of belonging and making new connections. Positive experiences were discussed in the context of loneliness during the pandemic. Connections with both program supervisors and mentees were addressed.
    • Prosocial engagement – fostered prosocial (i.e., desire to help others) motivations among mentors, increased self-efficacy regarding prosocial behaviors, and promoted awareness of positionality (how privilege and identity impact opportunities and power in society and school) among mentors and mentees.
    • Purpose formation – opportunities to explore purpose in life and future goals, including interpersonal skill development.
  • MentorON has the potential to give participants the opportunity to learn and grow despite adversity from the pandemic through purpose formation and prosocial behaviors.
    • For instance, all of the high school participants (mentors and mentees) had agency in making prosocial pursuits, experiencing positive social connections, and continuing purpose formation.
  • Findings suggest that participation in MentorOn could help meet basic psychological needs.
    • The program contributed to addressing the needs for autonomy (by achieving growth in aspirations and social intentions), relatedness (by providing opportunities to develop new social connections), and competence (by expanding critical consciousness).

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Burgeoning research has documented COVID–19’s detrimental impacts globally, especially on the lives of adolescents. The present study examined the positive influences of a virtual, cross‐age peer mentoring program on the development of adolescent participants in the face of the hardships created by the pandemic. In particular, this study focuses on the experiences of high school participants who served as both mentors and mentees in the program. Semi‐structured interviews with participating high schoolers (n = 13) were coded and analyzed using the thematic analysis process. The interview data indicated that increased social support, the agency in prosocial pursuits, and greater purpose engagement resulted from their participation in the program. Results are discussed in the context of self‐determination theory: youths’ needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy. The program met these basic needs among participants which in turn supported purpose exploration during the pandemic.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Our findings provide a unique window into the experiences and roles of adolescents during the COVID‐19 pandemic. While our results are consistent with existing literature (e.g., Healthy Minds Network, 2021; Lai et al., 2022) in identifying the negative impacts of the pandemic‐induced social barriers, they also shed light on peer connection and adolescent growth in the context of a virtual mentoring program. In line with expected outcomes based on prior research, interviewees reported that MentorOn participation enhanced their wellbeing. Specifically, interviewees identified supportive social connections, engagement in prosociality, and opportunity for deeper purpose formation through their MentorOn participation. In discussing these findings, we posit that the cross‐age peer mentoring program, MentorOn, contributed to satisfying the basic psychological needs of participants and therefore promoted thriving and growing in the face of pandemic adversity.

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