Important new systematic review of e-mentoring: Implications for youth health

Kaufman, M. R., Levine, D., Casella, A., & DuBois, D. L. (2021). E-Mentoring to Address Youth Health: A Systematic Review. Adolescent Research Review.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • E-mentoring has become more popular over the years.
  • However, despite the fact that e-mentoring is being incorporated into more youth mentoring programs, there is still limited research that assesses the overall effectiveness of e-mentoring.
  • This study reviews the current literature on e-mentoring initiatives that promote the health and well-being of youths.
  • Most studies on health-related e-mentoring utilized samples that consisted of youths with existing health conditions – not many studies focus on promoting overall health and well-being.
  • Most of the programs examined in this systematic review aimed to make mentorships more accessible for youths where in-person options aren’t feasible for them.
  • E-mentoring is a promising mentoring alternative for youths with unique health conditions and can help promote independent management of health conditions during youths’ transition to adulthood.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Electronic mentoring (e-mentoring), the integration of digital technology in mentoring relationships, has recently grown in popularity; however, the effectiveness of e-mentoring in addressing youth health has not been synthesized to date. The current study synthesizes the literature on e-mentoring to affect the health and well-being of youth (10–24 years) through a systematic review and evidence quality assessment. A total of 833 records were identified, of which 14 met eligibility criteria (published in English since 1995, targeted youth health and/or youth with health issues, and communication was entirely digital or combined with in-person interaction). The results showed that the majority of health-focused e-mentoring studies were conducted with young people with existing health conditions rather than on the use of e-mentoring to promote overall health and wellness. The included programs focused largely on bringing mentoring to youth subpopulations that may be challenged by in-person models. Quality assessments of the included studies showed that the strength of the evidence is mediocre. The findings suggest that e-mentoring has the potential to reach youth with unique health concerns and to promote independent management of health conditions as youth transition to adulthood; however, more rigorous evaluation of e-mentoring programs with larger sample sizes is needed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

With the rise in digital communication technology, e-mentoring has emerged as a feasible intervention for youth. Studies published over the past decade have focused on various models of e-mentoring, including using it to address health and well-being. This review was conducted to synthesize and examine the methodological quality of the literature on e-mentoring initiatives designed to improve youth health outcomes.

The first research question, which sought to describe the types of youth targeted by e-mentoring, is still largely unanswered. The types of health status are clearer; youth with chronic health conditions, disabilities, or those who received an organ transplant have been included in e-mentoring studies focused on health outcomes. However, the studies are too disparate across multiple health conditions to draw any definitive conclusions. Notwithstanding this limitation, it is clear that the interventions included in this review largely focused on bringing mentoring to youth subpopulations that may be challenged by in-person mentoring models—those with unique health needs and/or those with physical limitations that may make it difficult for them to engage in traditional, friend-based, in-person mentoring (Guse et al., 2012; Kaufman, 2017).

The gender of participants as it related to outcomes was largely unreported in these studies; Barnfather et al. (2011), Gorter et al. (2015), and Stewart et al. (2011) were exceptions. For all other studies, if participants’ gender was reported, the sample sizes were generally too small to merit meaningful analyses by gender, or in the case of the iPeer2Peer program, a vast majority of the participants were female. Other studies pointed to a lack of analysis by mentee gender in their limitations (e.g., Kohut et al., 2017, 2018; Shpigelman & Gill, 2013).

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