New research identifies mentoring strategies for at-risk youth

Wesely, J. K., Dzoba, N. P., Miller, H. V., & Rasche, C. E. (2017). Mentoring at-risk youth: An examination of strain and mentor response strategies. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 42, 198-217. doi: 10.1007/s12103-016-9353-7

Summarized by Justin Preston

Editor’s Note: This research touches on a crucial aspect of the mentoring relationship: the relational skills needed to build a solid foundation for the mentoring relationship. These include emotional regulation, conflict resolution, future orientation, and active listening. There are clear implications for mentors and mentoring programs, as these crucial skills can be fostered through program training and mentor self-awareness (that is, their awareness of their own existing relational skills and strengths).

Summary (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Mentoring is a popular and widespread intervention for at-risk youth that can positively influence this population ’s adaptation to stressors and increase overall resilience. Yet there is a lack of attention to how mentoring relationships work or the attributes of mentoring that contribute to successful outcomes.

In this study, [the authors] employ qualitative in-depth interviews with mentors in a school-based program to learn about their perceptions of the strain experienced by their mentees, and how they respond to it during sessions. [The authors] focus on emotional regulation, conflict resolution, future orientation, and active listening – four positive coping strategies associated with enhanced resilience among at-risk youth.

This study considers how these positive strategies fit into mentors’ descriptions of their approaches and the implications for intervention programming.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In this study, [the authors] add to existing understandings about mentoring relationships by using in-depth interviews to explore the perceptions of mentors in a school-based mentoring (SBM) program serving at-risk youth. Specifically, [the authors] examined how mentors identified and described strain in the lives of their mentees and then responded to it during sessions.

For at-risk youth, strain is theorized to result from detrimental or disadvantaged life events and conditions, such as unstable or chaotic family/home life, disadvantaged neighborhoods, violence, abuse, poverty, lack of resources, and academic or social deficits (Agnew, 1992). These variables were commonplace in these mentors’ descriptions of their mentees. Once identified as problems, mentors attempted to help their mentees address or alleviate them to the extent possible during mentoring sessions.

While all of the mentors acknowledged at least one of the identified coping strategies as important within their descriptions, JJ mentors made very few references to the concepts under emotional regulation when compared to the three other identified strategies.

This raises intriguing questions. For instance, it may suggest that while successful mentors naturally default to approaches that align with the positive coping strategies discussed, emotional regulation is the least intuitive of the four strategies or the most dependent on training or experience. Active listening, on the other hand, proliferated among mentors and was perceived as foundational, not only in terms of solidifying the mentoring relationship itself, but also as a starting point from which other coping strategies evolved.

It remains an open question as to whether most mentors bring positive coping strategies to their relationship with at-risk youth simply by virtue of their self-selection in volunteering for such service. Perhaps those who volunteer as mentors, knowing it involves building a relationship with an at-risk adolescent, attach to their efforts natural skills consistent with the positive coping strategies enumerated herein.

While [the authors] cannot make such determinations in this study, it is clear that active listening was perceived by mentors as integral to the building of relationships with mentees while also facilitating engagement of other positive coping strategies.


To access the original research, click here.