New study on the moderating effects of program experiences in formal mentoring

Weiler, L., Boat, A., & Haddock, S. (2019). Youth Risk and Mentoring Relationship Quality: The Moderating Effect of Program Experiences. American Journal of Community Psychology, 63(1-2), 73-87.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: Weiler’s, Boat’s, and Haddock’s (2019) study examined if mentor program experiences (i.e. support for efficiency, mattering, and opportunities to belong, supportive bonds with the staff, supportive relationships with the staff, as well as program structure) and youth risks were associated with mentor relationship quality. They also examined whether mentors’ program experience moderated the connection between youth risk and mentoring relationship quality. Results indicated that environmental risk, but no individual risk, was negatively associated with relationship quality. Furthermore, certain mentors’ experiences moderated the association. Implications for the mentoring program, Campus Connections, was discussed.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Because program experiences are more amendable than mentor or mentee characteristics, they may be important factors to consider in buffering the negative impact of youth risk on the quality of the mentor–mentee bond. Data from 455 mentees (ages 11–18; 57% male) and their undergraduate student mentors (82.3% female) from the Campus Connections mentoring program were used to assess whether youth risk and mentors’ program experiences (i.e., program structure, supportive relationships with staff, opportunities for skill building, support for efficacy and mattering, and opportunities to belong) were associated with mentoring relationship quality and whether mentors’ experience within the program moderated the association between youth risk and mentoring relationship quality. Results indicated that environmental, but not individual, risk was negatively associated with relationship quality. Mentors’ experiences with the program were positively associated with mentoring relationship quality, and in many cases, above and beyond youth level of risk. Finally, mentors’ perception of program structure, supportive relationships, and opportunities for skill building attenuated the negative relationship between environmental, but not individual, risk and relationship quality. Mentors’ experiences of program support for efficacy and mattering and opportunities to belong were not significant moderators in any model. Implications for programs and future research directions are presented.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In the models assessing the negative impact of environmental risk on mentoring relationship quality, appropriate structure, supportive relationships, and opportunities for skill building moderated this relationship. When mentors perceived relatively high structure, relational support, and skill building opportunities, respectively, the quality of the mentoring relationship among low‐ and high‐risk youth appears no different. In contrast, high‐risk youth who are mentored by mentors perceiving low structure, relationship support, or skill building opportunities experienced the lowest quality relationships, placing them in a vulnerable position with a limited chance of positive outcomes (Rhodes, 2005). It is possible that mentors who perceive direct support in their role as mentor feel more encouraged, and in turn, they may be able to overcome known burdens—namely, being beleaguered by the challenging life situations of mentees and becoming overly weighed down by logistics (Rhodes et al., 2009; Spencer, 2007). For example, in CC, a clear schedule and structure are provided which may reduce the burden on a mentor to arrange what to do, what to eat, where to meet, and more. In terms of supportive relationships, mentors are mentoring in a community of other mentor–mentee pairs; they have other mentors to lean on for support in coping with the difficult lives of their youth, and they also have therapist instructors immediately available for support for themselves and their mentees. Time is set aside each week for supporting mentors as they learn about and engage with youth who are exposed to risk. In terms of skill building, the mentoring relationship occurs within a classroom in the structure of a service‐learning course, in which students are applying what they learn about helping strategies, adolescent development, resilience, diversity, and mentoring best practices. This type of opportunity to learn, practice, and reflect on their experience may provide mentors with the necessary scaffolding to be successful in building mentoring relationships in the face of mentee environmental risk.

Opportunities to belong and support of efficacy and mattering, in contrast, were not significant moderators of the negative relationship between environmental risk and mentoring relationship quality. Unlike structure, support, and opportunities for skill building, which are directly related to championing and supporting mentors in their role, opportunities to belong and support for efficacy and mattering (as assessed in this study) appear to be related to mentors’ personal connection to, and satisfaction with, the program. Item examples include: I am bored at CC, I have fun at CC, I can be myself at CC, I get to help make decisions at CC, and I am proud to be a part of CC. While mentor satisfaction and connectedness to the program may be important for other reasons, such as persistence in long‐term mentoring relationships or likelihood of volunteering in the future, they do not seem to attenuate the impact of environmental risk on relationship quality within the CC program. Mentor satisfaction and/or connection with the program may not be enough to overcome their mentees’ situations, such as compromised family relationships and financial strain. In contrast, mentors who can rely on the program structure and supportive staff may have the skills to better manage and overcome these external stressors when working with their youth.


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