New study explores the benefits of mentoring for African American sexual and gender minority adolescents

Kaufman, M. R., Lin, C., Levine, D., Salcido, M., Casella, A., Simon, J., & DuBois, D. L. (2021). The Formation and Benefits of Natural Mentoring for African American Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Adolescent Researchhttps://doi.org/10.1177/07435584211064284

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Naturally occurring mentoring relationships are a promising approach to support people who experience marginalization, distress, and a lack of helpful resources.
  • This study assesses how natural mentorships can enhance social support for African American sexual &/or gender minority (SGM) adolescents.
  • Findings indicate that mentoring was beneficial for African American SGM adolescents with supportive mentors. It provided a safe space for mentees to…
    • Receive guidance
    • Be heard
    • Be themselves
    • Having a trustful confidant
    • Discuss family issues and romantic relationships
    • Discuss identity, adulthood, and physical & mental health issues
  • Naturally occurring relationships played an important role in their development and identity formation.
  •  Mentors were parental figures for SGM youth who were stigmatized by their families.
  • Receiving support from a trusted adult can have a positive and authentic effect on the mental health of African American SGM youth.
  • Many mentorships naturally formed through social circles, social media, and trust.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study explored how mentoring begins and the benefits provided for African American sexual and/or gender minority (SGM) youth. Participants were mentors and mentees living in three Mid-Atlantic cities. Mentees (ages 15–21, n = 14) identified as African American; cisgender male, transgender female, or non-binary assigned male; and had sexual interest in men. Mentor participants (ages 18+, n = 13) mentored such youth. Qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted with mentoring relationship partners (both partners did not necessarily participate). All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and imported into Atlas.ti. Using a basic interpretive qualitative analysis, a codebook was developed through inductive and deductive techniques. Analysis focused on mentees’ and mentors’ descriptions and interpretations about how they formed a mentoring relationship and any observed benefits that arose. Themes showed mentoring relationships were formed through introductions via social circles or social media. Mentoring was described as providing a trusted confidant and support with identity formation, relationships, transitioning to adulthood, and health. Results indicate a potential for natural mentoring relationships to provide trusted adult support to SGM adolescents in ways that are experienced as authentic and beneficial to the mental health of African American SGM male youth.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study’s findings suggest that African American SGM youth with a supportive mentor find benefits in receiving guided direction; being listened to; feeling able to be themselves; and having someone to confide in for issues related to family, romantic relationships, identity, mental and physical health, and becoming an adult. Results also point toward these relationships serving a critical purpose in adolescent development and identity formation for SGM mentees, with mentors standing in as alternative family members for youth who may have been stigmatized by their families of origin due to their sexual and gender differences (Arnold & Bailey, 2009; Stone et al., 2020).

Previous research has shown that sexual minority youth have a desire to talk with and consult mentors when they face challenges or need to make important decisions (Davis et al., 2009; Johnson & Gastic, 2015). Research also indicates that SGM often turn to natural mentoring relationships for such support (Davis et al., 2009; Johnson & Gastic, 2015; Weston, 1997) or receive mentoring from similar others regarding questions about sexuality and sexual health (Levitt et al., 2017; Torres et al., 2012). The current study expanded on previous research by describing how such mentoring relationships originate for youth with intersecting (often stigmatized) identities, how the mentoring relationship develops, and what specific benefits may be derived for the mentees. A more nuanced understanding of these issues can help to inform ways in which mentoring for these youth can be better promoted and expanded (in this case, the goal was to inform the development of a mobile app to support mentors of African American SGM youth).

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