She gives me a break from the world: Review looks at formal youth mentoring relationships between adolescent girls and adult women

Spencer, R., Liang, B. (2010). “She gives me a break from the world”: Formal youth mentoring relationships between adolescent girls and adult women. J Primary Prevent, 30, 109–130.

Summarized by Maggie Bayly

Notes of Interest:

  • Youth mentees are typically paired with a same-sex adult mentor.
  • For girls, in particular, theories and past programs indicated that young girls have specific needs relative to their own development.
  • There is an increased need for more research to focus on the impact gender has on youth mentoring relationships and possible issues that stem from the dynamic.
  • Female relationships are distinguished by emotional intimacy and support, whereas adolescent boys may benefit more from engaging in similar interests and activities with their adult male mentors.
  • The purpose of this qualitative study was to evaluate the experiences of female adolescent mentees and adult female mentors, from the perspective of mentees.
  •  Three processes were identified:
    • Engaged and authentic emotional support
    • The development of new skills and confidence through collaboration
    • Experiences of companionship that provided relief from daily stresses
  • The findings continue to emphasize the role of emotional support within a mentor relationship, as well as the combination of different approaches, such as instrumental.
  • Engaging in activities is seen as fun and stress-relieving for both parties involved. For a mentee, partaking in an activity with a mentor who was also interested in it and caring for the mentee, is emotionally supportive and enhancing.
  • The study calls for more focus to be placed on the context of learning and guidance for youth. A “commitment-rich fun” opportunity proves to be important for a mentor relationship.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Formal mentoring programs have historically tended to match youth with same-sex mentors; more recently, mentoring programs designed specifically for girls have begun cropping up in response to theories on gender and adolescent girls’ psychological health and development, which suggest girls have particular psychosocial needs and ways of relating. Yet, there have been few empirical studies that explicitly examine the relational processes in adolescent girls’ relationships with female mentors from the perspectives of the participants themselves. In the present study, qualitative interviews conducted with 12 female youth–adult pairs of participants (N = 24) in a one-to-one community-based mentoring program were analyzed thematically using a holistic-content approach. Examining these participants’ narratives about their experiences in the program, three interrelated relational processes were identified: (a) engaged and authentic emotional support; (b) the development of new skills and confidence through collaborations; and, (c) experiences of companionship that provided relief from daily stresses. Editors’ Strategic Implications: The focus on female dyads and relationships will richly inform further studies of the process of mentoring and provide insights for practitioners of a variety of gender-specific prevention programs.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The purpose of this study was to examine in-depth the relational processes at work in a small group of enduring and successful mentoring relationships between adolescent girls and adult women from the perspectives of the participants themselves. Consistent with previous literature on interpersonal relationships in childhood and adolescence, adult and youth participants in this study similarly emphasized the important role that emotional support played in the mentoring relationship. The depth of the emotional connections that had been forged and the significant emotional support these relationships offered the girls were apparent in these narratives. The women’s active and engaged interest in the girls’ lives coupled with their authentic and non-judgmental presence seemed to make their advice particularly meaningful in the eyes of these girls.

The narratives of these pairs also highlight how these relationships were experienced by the participants as promoting the development of the girls’ skills and competencies in myriad ways. Particularly striking was the collaborative nature of these efforts. The notion of instrumental support in mentoring relationships may seem to convey a one-way process—the adult offers support to the child. However, these pairs were engaging in a process akin to Rogoff’s (1990) notion of guided participation, in which the adult partners or joins in the process of working with the child to meet her goals, offers scaffolding to expand the reach of the child and actively contributes to the learning, thereby enhancing the likelihood of success. This process also bore a greater resemblance to the bi-directional conceptualization of mentoring reflected in relational models, which have been contrasted with more traditional notions of mentoring (Liang et al. 2002; Sullivan 1996).

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