New study explores “Autonomy-supportive” vs. “controlling” approaches to mentoring

Javornicky Brumovska, T., & Seidlova Malkova, G. (2023). Initial perception of the mentoring role and related mentors’ approach of autonomy support or control in formal youth mentoring relationships. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest

  • Mentors’ approaches to interacting with mentees play an essential role in establishing beneficial and supportive formal mentorships.
  • There is a growing interest in promoting youth-centered approaches in the mentoring field.
  • However, there is a lack of awareness about the aspects of relational dynamics and traits that mediate the risks and benefits of formal mentorships.
  • This paper demonstrates how initial perceptions of the mentoring role are associated with autonomy-controlling* and autonomy-supportive** traits in mentoring interactions developed by mentors after five months.
  • Mentors, like other notable adult figures, have traits that promote autonomy control and autonomy support.
    • In other words, they can establish beneficial & supportive mentorships and non-beneficial & controlling mentorships.
  • Mentors with autonomy-controlling traits tend to a) discern mentees’ needs based on perceived deficiencies of their mentees’ background (e.g., family members who can’t adequately meet their child’s needs) and b) strive to support their mentees based on what they perceive to be hindered by their mentee’s background.
    • Mentors viewed their mentees as youths who had limited autonomy after five months.
  • Mentors with autonomy-support traits conducted structured meetings that centered around the mentees’ interests and promoted fun and relaxation.
    • They viewed their mentees as engaged and capable youths with unique interests.
    • Mentees felt empowered since they had a say in what activities they would engage with their mentors.
  • Mentors’ positive perceptions of their mentees, as well as their interest in amplifying mentees’ autonomy, strengthen mentor-mentee relationships (for instance, this can promote closeness, trust, and relationship satisfaction).
  • Despite the growing interest in youth-centered approaches, traditional mentoring methods are still prevalent. Because of this, it is essential to examine themes from mentors’ experiences.
  • Despite this paper’s focus on empowering youths and promoting supportive youth autonomy, people must also recognize the complexities of mentoring relationships.

* = autonomy controlling refers to initial judgemental viewpoints of mentees and motives to control mentees’ autonomy that are regarded as inadmissible. 

**= autonomy supportive refers to a person’s willingness to consider other points of view, affirm other people’s feelings, and a lack of interest in controlling other people’s behaviors and experiences.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Mentors’ initial perceptions of the mentoring role in formal youth mentoring bonds; and the subsequent characteristics of autonomy support or autonomy control in mentoring interactions developed by mentors after 5 months of mentoring experience are discussed in this paper. The data is drawn from a longitudinal phenomenological study conducted in the Czech mentoring scheme between 2010 and 2017. In-depth semi-structured interviews were collected with 10 mentoring matches over 1 year of mentoring involvement. The results of Interpretive phenomenological analysis showed differences in mentors’ initial perceptions of the role, and related autonomy-supportive or autonomy-controlling characteristics in mentors’ approach. The benefits and risks of resulting autonomy support or control in mentoring interactions are discussed. The results argue for the theoretical conceptualisation of a child-centred perspective in youth mentoring that aims at mentees’ support of autonomy, active agency and empowement, thus arguing for further in-depth exploration of natural mentoring principles in child-centred perspective, supporting approaches such as youth-initiated mentoring, and broadening the discussion on good evidence-based mentoring practice in the EU context.

Implications (Reprinted from the Conclusions & Discussion)

To address the research aim and question of this paper, we identified and compared three themes found as common in mentors’ experiences tracked over 12 months of mentoring involvement. In particular, mentors’ initial perceptions of (1) the mentoring role; and (2) mentors’ role in facilitating mentees’ needs and well-being were analysed as ‘Mentors’ initial perceptions of the mentoring role’ in this study. Furthermore, the analysis included the common themes in mentors’ approach reported after 5 months of involvement: (1) Perception of mentees’ character, autonomy, and competence; (2) Approach to mentoring interactions. Application of CET (Deci et al., 1994; Ryan, 1991, 1993; Ryan & Solky, 1996) showed that mentors, similarly to other significant adults, display features of both, autonomy support and autonomy control in mentoring interactions and thus develop both, supportive beneficial mentoring bonds; and controlling, not-so-beneficial mentoring relationships. We identified features of the autonomy-supportive and autonomy-controlling approach in mentoring interactions developed by mentors over 1 year of mentoring involvement, with related initial perceptions of the mentoring role (Deci et al., 1994; Ryan & Solky, 1996). Six out of 10 tracked relationships developed features of autonomy control in the mentors’ approach while four mentors showed an autonomy-supportive approach to mentees (Deci et al., 1994).

The autonomy controlling approach of mentors was characterised by initial judgemental perceptions of mentees, intentions to control mentees’ autonomy perceived as undesirable, and, as a result, low relational satisfaction. Mentors who developed approach with autonomy-controlling features perceived children’s needs based on the perceived insufficiency of mentees’ background (parents, other family members incompetent to foster mentees’ needs). Mentors subsequently thought their role was to facilitate children’s needs they identified as thwarted by their deficient background. They developed a role of a mentor who intended to showcase ‘social normality’ and foster social norms in the mentees through mentoring interactions. After 5 months, these mentors regarded mentees as young people with a lack of autonomy, or as questionable and compromised in their character regarding their autonomous behaviour. In addition, they perceived a lack of various skills they picked on and focused to develop in mentees intentionally in mentoring activities.

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