More than fun and games? New study explores how mentors strike a balance between fun and goal-oriented activities

Kanchewa, S., Christensen, K. M., Poon, C. Y. S., Parnes, M., & Schwartz, S. (2021). More than fun and games? Understanding the role of school-based mentor-mentee match activity profiles in relationship processes and outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review120, 105757.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although evidence suggests that matched mentoring activities can correlate with a variety of positive outcomes, there’s still a lack of research that assesses how matched mentoring activities can vary for mentees depending on their academic achievement.
  • This study examines the correlation between mentor-mentee activities and relationship outcomes of school-based mentoring. 
  • Based on engaged matched mentoring activities, results revealed a two-profile model, called “Balanced” and “Instructional”. 
  • Findings found no differences in youth, mentor, and program traits among all the observed groups. 
    • When all the traits were controlled,  the mentees in the Balanced profile received more relational benefits than the mentees in the Instructional profile. 
  • It’s important to have a balanced approach inclusive of a range of activities and discussions since it has the potential to facilitate positive relationship outcomes.  

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study investigated associations between mentor-mentee activities and relationship outcomes of school-based mentoring. Multigroup three-step latent profile analysis (LPA) assessed whether youth could be classified into distinct profiles based on their mentoring relationship activities, and whether these profiles were similar when taking into account youth academic success. Furthermore, regression analyses examined whether activity profile membership of mentored youth predicted youth relationship process outcomes. Participants (N = 1110) were drawn from a national, randomized longitudinal study of youth in Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Programs. Multigroup LPA results indicated a two-profile model, labeled Balanced and Instructional based on varying engagement in mentoring activities. Descriptive analyses revealed no differences in youth, mentor, and program characteristics across groups. Controlling for these characteristics, mentees in the Balanced profile demonstrated more relational benefits than youth in the Instructional profile. Research and practice implications are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Recent research in youth mentoring has called for the continued exploration of targeted versus non-specific mentoring programs to better understand the practices and processes that might contribute to positive youth outcomes in this context (Christensen et al., 2020, Raposa et al., 2019). However, the existing organizational structures of large, well-established mentoring programs like BBBSA may not easily support or be congruent with the implementation of significant systemic changes to mentoring practices in the near future. As researchers and practitioners wait for the eventual transition to more targeted, evidence-based practices across mentoring programs, it is worthwhile to explore the heterogeneity within non-specific mentoring programs. Thus, the current study aimed to explore the mentoring activity profiles that derived from youth with different levels of academic performance.

Overall, results indicated statistically meaningful subgroups based on the type of activities in which matches engaged. The finding of unique groups is consistent with other research examining interactions in mentoring relationships (e.g., Keller and Pryce, 2012, Langhout et al., 2004, Larose et al., 2015). Findings from this study do not suggest that instructional and relationally-focused activities are mutually exclusive; rather, a balanced approach inclusive of a range of activities and discussions may have the potential to facilitate at least some positive mentoring relational experiences, which is consistent with previous research (e.g., Karcher and Hansen, 2014, Keller and Pryce, 2012, Langhout et al., 2004, Nakkula and Harris, 2010).

Findings also suggest that, particularly for youth in the low academic profiles, mentoring activities do not necessarily play a strong role in promoting positive outcomes. In contrast, results indicated that mentees in the Balanced profile experienced more positive mentor-youth relationship process outcomes than those in the Instructional group. Specifically, within the high academic performance group, youth in the Balanced profile were more likely than youth in the Instructional profile to be emotionally engaged and experience a more youth-centered relationship. It is possible that Instructional profile mentors may have been too focused on instruction and did not spend enough time building a rapport and close relationship with their mentee. This pattern suggests that, relative to matches that largely engaged in a singular instructional activity (e.g., tutoring), mentees in matches that participated in a balanced mix of conversation, instruction, and recreational activities experienced more relational benefits from mentoring. This finding is consistent with other research indicating that programs emphasizing academic activities did not foster better academic outcomes relative to those focused on social activities (Bayer et al., 2015). In addition, these findings may lend support to the idea that a more balanced approach, in which matches can flexibly engage in a range of activities and conversations, may be beneficial (Keller and Pryce, 2012, Langhout et al., 2004). Findings also suggests the potential importance of a mentor’s intentional goal of relationship building with their mentee; research indicates that mentoring relationships suffer when mentors lack relational skills (Spencer, 2007).

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