The Ripple Effect of Youth Mentoring on Family Well-Being

Reference: Erdem, G., DuBois, D. L., Larose, S., De Wit, D. J., & Lipman, E. L. (2023). Associations of Youth Mentoring with Parent Emotional Well-Being and Family Functioning: Longitudinal Findings from a Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. Children and Youth Services Review, 107384.

Summarized by: Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study:

While research into youth community mentoring programs has demonstrated the benefits for mentees, a noticeable gap in the literature exists in looking at the impact of these programs on the parents’ mental health and the overall family dynamics. Important to this discussion is the General Systems Theory (GST) which, through the principle of interdependence, posits that effects on one subsystem of a person’s life can lead to effects on another. Making use of this theory, plus the systemic model of mentoring (which argues that the mentor-child relationship is shaped through a larger network of relationships), this study explores how the positive effects of mentoring on mentees might extend to their parents. The study used data from Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Canada, and utilized a longitudinal approach, comparing parents whose children had been paired with a mentor with parents whose children have not, while controlling for various parent and child characteristics. 

Key Findings:

  • All parents demonstrated improvements in outcome variables over time.
  • Effects on parents’ mental health were not found to be statistically significant. Still, parents of mentored children did report slightly lower levels of depression, social anxiety, and hostility/aggression, suggesting potential benefits that should be further explored.
  • Parents with mentored children reported statistically significant improvements in family functioning (e.g., communication, problem-solving) over time compared to those with non-mentored children. 
  • By looking at many different domains of family relationships (not limited to simply parental support and relationship quality), the authors suggested that the results thus reflect a more overall positive evaluation of family relationships.
  • Differences between parents with mentored children and those with non-mentored children were small in magnitude by the study end-point.
  • Longer match durations were shown to be associated with greater improvements in parental outcomes, however this was less pronounced when considering other influential variables. Of note, a trend was demonstrated with match duration within the parental depression model.  

Implications for Mentoring:

While this study contributes valuable findings to the field, the authors also underscore the need for further research. One area to focus on is the potential influence of mentoring on parental well being and stress levels. Beyond this, it is important to explore situations where children were not matched or it took a while for them to be matched with a mentor in order to better understand parents’ frustrations with programs. Given the potential youth mentoring has for also positively impacting parents, the authors urge mentoring programs to include more targeted mental health interventions for parents, particularly low-income parents who often face heightened levels of stress. Drawing from the literature, they suggest incorporating more parent-focused programming/support, such as parent support groups, skills training, and check-ins. Overall, this study encourages recognizing parents as potential beneficiaries as opposed to just peripheral figures in the mentoring relationship. 

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