New study assesses the longitudinal impacts of mentor role on youth outcomes

Samuels, J., Davis, A. L., & McQuillin, S. D. (2023). Assessing longitudinal impacts of mentor role on youth outcomes. Youth & Society, 0044118X231168439.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Research shows that youths with natural mentors are more likely to have more positive attitudes about school, have higher expectations for academic success, perform better in school, and be more socially successful. Evidence also suggests that they have higher incomes.
  • While there are many studies that investigated the effects of mentoring, a majority of them evaluate how they contribute to social or academic outcomes. Because of this, it’s still unclear how mentoring relationships impact other areas of youth identity development.
  • This study used data from a national longitudinal study to evaluate the extent specific mentor roles (i.e., coaches, teachers, & religious leaders) predict domain-specific, longitudinal outcomes (i.e., athletic, educational, and religious outcomes).
    • Examining the impact of coaches and religious leaders is especially important since many mentors also have these roles. Studying this also provides some insights into how mentoring operates outside of education.
  • The presence of an academic mentor was a predictor of greater educational attainment later on.
    • Academic mentors didn’t have the same effect on academic expectations (i.e., the presence of a mentor didn’t notably change a youth’s expected education level).
  • However, findings also indicate that religious and athletic mentors didn’t have a notable effect in promoting religiosity or athleticism.
  • The impact of mentoring relationships usually works jointly with other individual, sociodemographic, and environmental traits to affect youth trajectories.
  • It’s important to understand the unique contributions of individual factors to create effective evidence-based programs for youth.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth who report prosocial relationships with natural mentors show increased social and academic success and life satisfaction. However, little research investigates how mentors impact aspects of youth identity such as athleticism or religiosity. The present study applies a Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (BART) analysis model to data from a national longitudinal study (N = 15,701) to predict specific outcomes in educational, athletic, and religious domains. This analytic approach is uniquely well-suited for accurately drawing conclusions within highly collinear, high dimensional datasets. Analyses included demographic variables and childhood base rates of academic success, fitness, and religious beliefs as covariates. Findings indicate that the presence of an academic mentor during adolescence longitudinally predicts educational attainment, while athletic or religious mentors did not have significant impacts in terms of increasing athleticism or religiosity. These results suggest that academic mentors may have more longitudinal impacts on student success than other types of mentors.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

We hypothesized that mentors have differential impacts on longitudinal outcomes of mentees based upon their domain of influence such that academic mentors impact academic outcomes, athletic mentors impact athletic outcomes, and religious mentors impact religious outcomes. We used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health dataset to investigate this prediction by determining the extent to which the type of mentor predicted longitudinal domain-specific outcomes. The four primary analyses yielded important findings regarding the impacts different types of mentors have on young people.

First, the presence of an academic mentor predicts higher educational attainment later in life (supporting Hypothesis 2). Though there are many confounding variables that could influence a young person’s educational attainment, this finding remains statistically significant when controlling for 24 potential covariates including parental income, school performance, self-reported academic expectations, and demographic characteristics such as race and biological sex. This finding is important because it supports the ecological validity of previous research evidence that there are educational benefits for young people involved in mentorship relationships. Young people with mentors are more engaged in school and are more likely to complete high school and college (Dubois & Silverthorn, 2005; Hurd & Sellers, 2013). It is important to acknowledge that the presence of a mentor is not a randomly assigned condition, and thus has other selection factors that contribute to the impacts of mentorship. Some studies investigate the potential covariates of mentorship as moderators in multiple regression models, and find that sociodemographic factors, such as race/ethnicity, environmental risk factors, and family income, can moderate the impact of mentorship (Erickson et al., 2009; Fruiht & Wray-Lake, 2013; Reynolds & Parrish, 2018). The statistical method used in this analysis is unique in that the model can account for a larger number of covariates and is less susceptible to overestimation of effect, providing a more realistic estimation of the unique contribution of a single predictor variable. The findings of this study demonstrate that the presence of an academic mentor does independently contribute to the educational attainment of youth even when considering all the other selection factors that co-occur with mentorship.

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