Perceived benefits of youth mentoring based on relationship characteristics

DuBois, D. L., & Neville, H. A. (1997). Youth mentoring: Investigation of relationship characteristics and perceived benefits. Journal of Community Psychology, 25(3), 227–234.<227::AID-JCOP1>3.0.CO;2-T

Summarized by Maggie Bayly

Notes of Interest:

  • Current work on youth mentoring focus on developing mentoring programs, providing descriptions of current methods & programs, assessing mentor traits, and, occasionally, evaluating the positive results of youth in programs.
  • To further understand what makes a mentoring relationship effective, this study explores the connections between mentor-reported relationship characteristics *(such as feelings of closeness and frequency of contact) to understand the benefits of mentoring.
  • In the Big Brothers/Big Sisters sample, both mentor/mentee contact & closeness were positively associated with closeness and perceived benefits for youth. Additionally, the length had no significance on perceived benefits unless the level of average monthly contact was controlled for, which showed a significant association. 
  • In the Big Brothers/Big Sisters sample, mentors in long-term relationships noted fewer contacts with agency staff.
  • The service-learning sample had similar findings. However, while there was a positive relationship between closeness & mentor-mentee contact and perceived youth benefits, the length of the relationship played no significance, even when controlling the rate of contact. Reports of obstacles (e.g., arguments) connected to increased interactions with staff members.
  • Overall, mentors felt that their relationships had a positive influence on youth by providing benefits, but ratings changed when considering different relationship characteristics.
  • Essentially, reports of more mentor/mentee contact and feelings of closeness were connected to higher levels of perceived youth benefits.
  • Future research needs to consider volunteer mentors’ training and support, including consistent staff supervision and sponsored events.

* = from Big Brothers Big Sisters and a university service-learning course

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This research examined associations among characteristics of relationships formed in two community-based mentoring programs and their linkages with ratings of perceived benefits for youth. Volunteer mentors in a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program completed a questionnaire on a monthly basis for a period of six months, whereas undergraduate students serving as mentors through a service-learning course completed a questionnaire on one occasion only. Mentors’ ratings of emotional closeness with youth were found to be associated with reports of fewer contacts with program staff and relationship obstacles in each program. Reports of more extensive amounts of mentor-youth contact and feelings of closeness were, in turn, each associated with ratings of greater benefits for youth. Findings also indicated a tendency for mentors in longer term relationships in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program to perceive greater benefits for youth, but this was evident only after controlling for a countervailing tendency of mentors in these relationships to report spending less time with youth. Implications for the design and evaluation of youth mentoring programs are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The findings of this study illustrate the potential value of examining associations among process characteristics of mentoring relationships as well as their linkages to relatively more distal indicators of program effectiveness, in this case mentor ratings of perceived benefits for youth. With regard to the first concern, the significant inverse association that was evident in each sample between mentor ratings of emotional closeness and their reported frequency of contact with program staff was a somewhat unexpected finding. This result may simply be reflective of a tendency for mentors to seek out assistance when they find themselves experiencing difficulty establishing strong bonds with youth. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that such contacts were apparently not sufficiently helpful to produce gains in closeness that might have overshadowed the observed negative linkage between reports of staff contacts and relationship closeness. This suggests a need for pro- grams to examine the appropriateness of the training and assistance that volunteer men- tors are afforded through formal agency supports (Furano et al., 1993). The present find- ings that linked perceived relationship obstacles to problems in the development of close ties between mentors and youth in each program suggest a promising starting point for efforts in this regard.

Other associations involving indices of relationship characteristics were specific to either the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program or the service-learning course. For the Big Brothers/Big Sisters sample, mentors in longer term relationships reported fewer con- tacts with agency staff. This finding may be a positive reflection of greater autonomy and skill among relatively more experienced mentors, some of whom had been matched with particular youth for several years. However, such mentors also tended to report relatively less extensive contact with youth and thus may not have been making optimal use of their cumulated knowledge and expertise. For the service-learning program, ratings of emotional closeness were associated with greater reported levels of mentor-youth con- tact. In addition, reports of relationship obstacles were linked to more frequent contacts with agency staff. These findings underscore the apparent importance of regular patterns of interaction between mentors and youths as well as the manner in which per- ceived relationship obstacles may invoke considerable need for staff time and resources. Such concerns may be especially relevant when attempts are made to establish effective mentoring relationships within a time-limited framework (e.g., a semester long class).

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