Navigating Sociopolitical Stress in Informal Mentorships: Insights for Educators and Youth Workers

Reference: Davis, A.L., Yazdani, N., Kornbluh, M., & McQuillin, S.D. (2023). Exploring the impact of natural mentors on sociopolitical stress: Implications for educators and youth workers. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice. 

Summarized By: Ariel Ervin

About the Study:

College students faced unprecedented challenges during the fall of 2020 due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the polarized political landscape, and coverage that amplified violence against underrepresented groups. Although it’s common for college students to experience heightened stress and internalizing problems, the onset of the pandemic exacerbated these experiences by exacting widespread isolation, loss, and political & social tensions. However, although natural mentoring relationships (NMR) have the potential to address these problems, few studies have assessed the accessibility of NMR for youth with different political and religious ideologies, as well as how they function within the context of sociopolitical stress. This study investigates three inquiries: the demographic discrepancies in mentorship access among students; the differences in sociopolitical stress and election-related coping approaches between college students in NMRs and those who aren’t; and whether relationship traits (e.g., closeness and longevity) predict coping mechanisms or sociopolitical stress among college students in NMRs.

Main Findings:

  • Race/Ethnicity & SEP: Contrary to initial hypotheses, there were no significant disparities in access to mentors based on racial/ethnic identity and SEP.
  • Gender Disparities: Women were more likely to have mentors than men.
  • Religious Affiliation: Religiously active students were likelier to have mentors than their non-religious counterparts.
  • Political Affiliation: Republican-affiliated students were likelier to have a mentor than their Democratic and non-affiliated peers. Younger conservative youth were more likely to be in informal mentoring relationships.
  • Coping Mechanisms: Although students with mentors didn’t have lower levels of sociopolitical stress than their peers who didn’t have mentors, they experienced high levels of social support coping, self-care coping, education/advocacy coping, resistance/action coping, and drug/alcohol coping than their non-mentored peers.
  • Relationship Traits: Frequency of contact, closeness, and relationship longevity didn’t predict student coping. However, students who felt like their mentors cared about them experienced less sociopolitical stress.

Implications for Mentoring:

This study highlights the importance of offering accessible NMR and promoting positive coping during stressful and isolating sociopolitical climates. It also has important implications for community-based practitioners since non-traditional students and young people in the workforce are more likely to rely on informal support than their college-attending counterparts. Engaging in targeted outreach can raise awareness of approaches for facilitating NMR and other informal social programming for youth who need them the most. Providing ongoing training & staff support and implementing caregiver and youth-initiated mentoring are also encouraged to meet young people’s needs, maximize positive outcomes, and promote the recruitment & retention of mentors. Researchers can contribute to these efforts by developing and sharing accessible, evidence-based resources.

To read the full study, click here.