New systemic review assesses natural mentorships for LGBTQ youth

Burningham, K. L., & Weiler, L. M. (2021). Natural mentoring and LGBTQ youth: A systematic review. Adolescent Research Review, 6(4), 391–407.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Supportive familial and non-familial relationships have many benefits for adolescents.
  • Despite this, many formal mentoring programs do not adequately address LGBTQ needs – this is especially concerning given that parental rejection is one of the biggest problems for LGBTQ youth.
  • Natural mentoring relationships with supportive, non-familial individuals are a promising approach to addressing this issue.
  • This systemic review evaluates the traits and effects natural LGBTQ mentoring relationships have on youth development.
  • Although sexual minority youth are more likely to search for and have a natural mentor, they find their mentor later than straight youth.
  • Many mentees view their mentors as parental figures who provide unequivocal support, advice, acceptance, and stability.
  • Mentors contributed to their mentees’ emotional, cognitive, academic & career development and their mentees’ positive identity construction.
  • Emotional closeness correlated with a) boosting life satisfaction and self-esteem and b) reducing suicidal ideation, depression, and binge drinking.
    • Emotional closeness varied by race and ethnicity among sexual minority youths.
  • Findings indicate that close, non-familial natural mentorships increases the chances of LGBTQ youth finishing high school and attending college.
  • The results also suggest that matching by mentoring experience and knowledge is more influential than by matching by sexual orientation & gender.
  • Natural mentoring relationships are invaluable resources for LGBTQ youth as they grow and develop.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

LGBTQ youth have a greater likelihood of lacking accepting, supportive, and affirming adult relationships that will help them transition successfully into adulthood. Natural mentoring relationships have been shown to be a corrective attachment experience and to mitigate negative health outcomes among at-risk youth. The purpose of this systematic review is to critically examine studies regarding natural mentoring relationships among LGBTQ youth to understand their potential as a prevention and intervention strategy. Through a PRISMA-guided search of five databases, eight eligible peer-reviewed studies were found. The studies were published between 2009 and 2018, cross-sectional, and were of quantitative (n = 4), qualitative (n = 3), and multiple-method (n = 1) design. Qualitative analyses highlighted their characteristics and functions, and the processes by which natural mentoring relationships are formed. Quantitative analyses assessed the effects of natural mentoring relationships on a variety of outcomes (e.g., substance use, suicidality, educational attainment) and the likelihood of having a natural mentoring relationship according to demographics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. Overall, analyses revealed that natural mentoring relationships significantly buffered risk and increased the likelihood that LGBTQ youth graduated high school and attended college, particularly if the natural mentoring relationship was emotionally close and with a nonparental family member. Recommendations for future research are provided, which include a stronger integration of developmental and critical theories, a focus on assessing natural mentoring relationships among a variety of LGBTQ youth populations (e.g., sexual minority females of color and transgender youth), and the examination of these relationships over time.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Nonparental adults are important developmental assets for LGBTQ adolescents. In general, mentored adolescents can garner benefits via formal (Raposa et al. 2019) and informal mentoring relationships (Van Dam et al. 2018), but LGBTQ youth have less access to formal programs that are appropriately designed for them (Mallory et al. 2014). As a result, LGBTQ youth are more likely to have, and be positively impacted by, natural mentors. The purpose of this review was to examine the current body of literature examining natural mentoring relationships among LGBTQ youth and nonparental adults.

Through a comprehensive search, eight studies, including one dissertation, met the criteria for this review. Together, these studies showed that mentors are often seen as parental figures who offer unconditional acceptance, guidance, support, and consistency (Johnson and Gastic 2015; Mulcahy et al. 2016; Reed et al. 2018; Torres et al. 2012). For LBGTQ youth who feared rejection at home, in particular, mentors were a welcomed safe haven (Johnson and Gastic 2015; Mulcahy et al. 2016). Qualitatively and quantitatively, natural mentoring relationships were consistently associated with positive developmental outcomes. One study also acknowledged that some unhealthy relationships could include risky behaviors (Sterret et al. 2015). As such, considerations for safety must parallel the efforts to connect youth with other adults.

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