New research shows mentor-youth similarities to have impact on mentoring match duration

Raposa, E. B., Ben‐Eliyahu, A., Olsho, L. E., & Rhodes, J. (2018). Birds of a feather: Is matching based on shared interests and characteristics associated with longer youth mentoring relationships?. Journal of Community Psychology. doi:10.1002/jcop.22127

Summarized by Cyanea Poon & Rachel Thompson

Notes of Interest: The current study sought to expand on findings from previous studies, exploring program factors that can enhance the duration and potential impact of youth mentoring interventions. It examined whether mentor–youth similarities (such as race/ethnicity, gender, and mentor – youth interests) at baseline predicts longer-lasting mentoring relationships in a large, diverse sample of youth and their mentors. The finding that shared dislike of activities was associated with longer matches gives insight to potential pathways of success in mentoring.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth mentoring practitioners and researchers have shown a growing interest in determining the ways in which mentor–youth matching practices might influence the duration and effectiveness of mentoring relationships. The current project tested whether mentor–youth similarities at baseline, in terms of demographic variables and interests in certain activities (e.g., sports, art), predicted a longer duration of mentoring relationships. Analyses used baseline and follow-up data from over 9,000 youth who participated in community-based mentoring programs in the northeastern United States, as well as their volunteer mentors. A racial and ethnic similarity between mentor and youth was predictive of longer match duration. Moreover, a shared dislike of activities was associated with longer matches than either shared interests or discordant interests in activities. Findings have important implications for determining the ways in which mentor–youth matching practices influence the length and effectiveness of mentoring relationships.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study offers an important first step toward understanding how concordance or discordance on a range of baseline characteristics affects mentoring relationships.  The findings suggest that pairing minority youth with a same-race mentor could be similarly helpful in formal mentoring programs.  Furthermore, these findings suggest that mentoring programs might benefit from assessing and taking into account the activities mentors and youth do not prefer, in addition to those activities they like. It might be essential for mentoring programs to encourage mentors to actively engage around youth interests, even when they do not necessarily match with the mentor’s preferences.  Moreover, the findings suggest that it is also essential to foster realistic expectations about the time-limited nature of most mentoring relationships for mentors and families of youth, while training mentors around the issues of actively engaging youth in the mentoring relationship, to avoid premature termination because of loss of interest or avoidable logistical issues,

Future studies should continue to explore the ways in which matching practices can influence mentoring relationship outcomes, as well as the specific mechanisms that account for these effects. Using mentors and youth randomized to matches based on characteristics such as gender is therefore needed. Such research has important implications for our conceptual understanding of the role of similarity in close relationships, as well as practical implications for youth mentoring programs looking to create long-lasting and impactful matches between mentors and youth.

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