New study explores how COVID-19 affected mentors and mentees

Kaufman, M. R., Wright, K., Simon, J., Edwards, G., Thrul, J., & DuBois, D. L. (2021). Mentoring in the Time of COVID-19: An Analysis of Online Focus Groups with Mentors to Youth. American Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • The pandemic has had (and continues to have) a detrimental impact on youth mental health and well-being.
  • Youth mentoring relationships are a promising approach to address the increased psychological distress of youths due to COVID-19.
  • This study explores how COVID-19 affected mentoring relationships at the beginning of the pandemic and how mentors can be supported.
  • A majority of mentors participating in the study were committed to their respective mentoring relationships and were willing to adapt their practices to suit the needs of their mentees.
  • Mentoring relationships can help alleviate the stress that’s tied to global crises.
  • Support groups can help mentors effectively support their mentees. By having a space for themselves, they can form a community that can address their needs. It can also help boost mentors’ interests in their positions, their confidence, and mental health.
  • Adaptive programming can help meet mentors’ needs as they shift over time and as new challenges arise.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study explored the experiences of mentors to youth during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study aims were to examine (1) the role of the pandemic on mentor–mentee interactions and relationships and (2) the ways in which mentors could be supported during the health crisis to better meet youth needs. Six online focus groups were conducted with 39 mentors. Mentor participants included 26 females and 11 males (two did not disclose gender), and 51% identified as white. Any mentor currently in a mentoring relationship, regardless of type, was eligible. Using Facebook groups, moderators posted questions and prompts, and mentor participants responded using textual comments. The text from each group was recorded, extracted, and coded and analyzed using thematic analysis. As mentors transitioned to a primarily online format, text and video chat became the most common communication methods. Mentees’ access to technology and privacy were the biggest challenges faced. Mentor concerns for their mentees varied, including mental health, school, family finances, and access to instrumental support and food. Mentor help involved routinely connecting with mentees and providing academic support. Mentors requested ideas and resources for connecting with mentees and an online mentor support group. During the early weeks of the pandemic, mentors continued to engage with mentees, offering valuable support during a confusing and scary time. Mentoring programs can broaden their approach, intentionally integrating online connecting in an effort to provide safe, appropriate, and continued support to both mentors and mentees.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Mentors in this study continued to connect with their mentees despite the difficulties created by the pandemic. They seemed dedicated to their relationships and determined to adjust their mentoring practices to suit the needs of the pandemic and each mentee as an individual. Their extra effort showed commitment, intentionality, and depth—and that mentoring programs can adapt to digital operations. The OFGs proved how difficult it can be to connect with mentees. A thoughtful and thorough approach to creating a safe and comfortable space can result in meaningful connections, but understanding and implementing best practices for connecting online is necessary in order to avoid an early dissolution of relationships (Garringer et al., 2019; Kaufman, 2017; Miller & Griffiths, 2005; Shpigelman, 2014).

Mentoring has proven beneficial for youth who feel isolated (Keller et al., 2020), and stable, long-term relationships stand to have a very powerful effect for mentees (DeWit et al., 2016). Many mentors in this study clearly understood that consistency within their mentor–mentee relationships was important, and their concerns for and attempts to address physical and mental health needs portrayed how mentors can have a positive impact on the lives of their mentees. This may have been especially important during the pandemic given many youth had reduced opportunities for social-emotional interaction due to necessary school closures and social distancing. Despite this interruption during a critical youth developmental stage, mentors had the opportunity to fill the gap, and those participating in this study stepped up in many instances.

More broadly, it remains to be seen whether youth who were able to maintain a relationship with a mentor during the pandemic fared better in their emotional well-being compared to those youth without the stability of such supportive relationships. Youth without both peer support and healthy ways to cope with mental distress, such as the guidance of a supportive adult, are more likely to experience anxiety and depression (Courtney et al., 2020; Golberstein et al., 2020; Lee, 2020). As a result, the mental health of youth has been of growing concern as a result of the pandemic (Rousseau & Miconi, 2020). However, mentorship presented an opportunity to mitigate the stress associated with a global crisis. While the study of the impact of youth mentorship during a global health crisis is new, there is evidence showing that such relationships have been helpful in similar contexts, such as the prevention of HIV (Kaufman et al., 2020), and in crisis situations, such as the recovery from traumatic events (Johnson & Pryce, 2013).

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