New findings for natural mentoring within Mexican cultural contexts

Baker Cervantes, A. S., & Jiménez, T. R. (2023). Exploring how naturally occurring mentorships emerge within a Mexican cultural context. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • While there is a notable amount of research that examines the influence and roles of natural mentorships, there’s still a lack of scholarship that assesses what contributes to their emergence.
  • Understanding how natural mentorships develop provides useful information on how formal mentorships can be fostered more effectively.
  • This study evaluates how individual adolescent (including emerging adults) factors affect the materialization of natural mentoring between youths and non-parental adults.
  • Adolescents are more likely to be responsive to mentoring relationships when they feel emotionally and cognitively prepared.
  • Results indicate that factors can either inhibit, promote, or activate an adolescent’s readiness to engage in relationships resembling natural mentorships.
  • Inhibitors (Factors that reduce adolescents’ readiness in developing a natural mentorship)
    • Having no motivation to connect
    • Being anxious to engage
  • Promoters (Factors that bolster adolescents’ readiness to be receptive to adult-initiated interactions)
    • Having prior experiences with adults as reference points
    • Experiencing life transition
    • Being open to learn more
    • Having proximity and access
    • Having an affinity to adults or older topics
    • Cultivating perspectives of teachers, effort, and approach
    • Opportunities to grow/develop
  • Activators (Factors that encourage adolescents to seek support from adults)
    • Experiencing academic issues
    • Seeking advice, approval, or a role model
    • Experiencing issues related to mental/emotional health
  • While mentoring is not a common concept in Mexico, this study demonstrates that meaningful relationships between adolescents and non-parental adults are still prevalent.
    • It’s important to remember that these meaningful relationships don’t necessarily equate to mentoring,
    • This also indicates the importance of highlighting youths’ voices and perspectives.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Natural youth mentoring focuses on cross-age relationships that develop organically outside the construct of youth programs. In the United States, research has demonstrated the positive impact of these mentorships and scholars have applied natural concepts to formal mentoring schema. Little work has been done to examine how these relationships emerge and the factors that impact their development. This study, designed in partnership with a school in rural México, aimed to unpack these questions using grounded theory. Participants were students, alumni, and teachers. Data were collected through semistructured interviews. Findings indicate that despite adults’ interest to create mentorships, adolescents and emerging adults will likely not be receptive until they are cognitively and emotionally ready. This study illuminated three factors of readiness—inhibitors, promoters, and activators—which contribute to this state of readiness at which point engagement with an adult seems to elevate from the typical bounds of youth–adult relationships to the natural mentorship level.

Implications (Reprinted from the Results and Discussion)

The findings shared in the current paper represent a segment of a larger data set that focuses on adolescents’ and emerging adults’ individual factors that influence the emergence of natural mentorships. Although additional work will be conducted to further elucidate a framework for the emergence of natural mentorships, the results presented in the current paper help provide important initial insights into this complex phenomenon.


When the study was originally designed, a specific research question on what is mentoring was not included; however, while translating the informed assent and consent forms, the school leadership explained that although there was a Spanish term for mentorship (mentoría), it was not commonly used in México. This indicated the need to further consider the question as to whether mentorship existed conceptually within this Mexican cultural context, and if so, in what ways. When youth participants were asked how they would classify their relationship with an adult who made an important positive difference in their life, only three—one current student and two alumni—specifically classified them as mentors. Of the remaining 11 participants, 10—5 current students and 5 alumni—classified the adults as full or partial mentors after being asked for their personal definition of mentorship or mentoría. One current student stated that the adult they referenced had a significant impact on their life but was not a mentor. This variance in how the youth participants applied the label of mentor is indicative of an ongoing challenge in the natural mentorship literature of a lack of a common definition of natural mentors (Zimmerman et al., 2005) and demonstrates the need to explore and elevate youth perspectives and voices. As expected and due to typical research methods, most studies create an operational definition of natural mentorships and then ask participants to evaluate whether they have experiences that fit into that definition. This approach results in study limitations and findings that cannot be easily explained. For example, one mixed-methods study observed youth participants identifying natural mentors through interviews even though they had not previously identified any when asked on a survey based on the study’s operational definition (Monjaras-Gaytan et al., 2020). This confusion may be due to the operational definition not reconciling with participants’ own personal definition.

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