What makes a mentoring relationship strong? New study has answers!

Goldner, L., & Ben-Eliyahu, A. (2021). Unpacking Community-Based Youth Mentoring Relationships: An Integrative Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(11), 5666. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18115666

Summarized by Ariel Ervin 

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although formal community-based mentoring (CBM) is a popular way to advocate for positive development and health, it’s still unclear as to which factors and processes promote relationship quality that has long-lasting benefits.
  • This review examines the CBM literature to get a better understanding of CBM relationship characteristics, as well as its mediating and moderating variables.
  • Feelings of trust, sensitivity, and support, in addition to establishing relationship-oriented goals, are essential to foster positive development and alleviate experiences of adversity.
    • Various moderating variables, such as match traits, mentor-mentee characteristics, parental engagement, and guidance from mentoring programs, affect this.
  • Mentors’ positive attitudes toward marginalized youths, their maturity, and experiences are vital for developing effective relationships.
  • Mentees who have more positive personality characteristics and have better relational histories tend to have higher-quality relationships.
  • There are a limited number of measures that have contributed to the development and verification of measurement tools.
  • There needs to be an agreement on what constitutes mentoring relationship quality.
  • Future studies should examine the reciprocal influences mentors and mentees have on one another during different developmental stages while accounting for the underlying moderating processes.
  • Mentoring programs are encouraged to train their mentors to form relationships based on warmth, trust, and cultural sensitivity with their mentees.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Formal community-based youth mentoring relationships (CBM) are a popular form of intervention worldwide in which caring, non-parental adult figures are matched with at-risk children (i.e., children who experience an intense and/or chronic risk factor, or a combination of risk factors in personal, environmental and/or relational domains that prevent them from pursuing and fulfilling their potential) to promote development and health. Common models suggest that a close mentoring relationship is needed for the success of the intervention. However, it remains unclear which key relational processes and variables promote relationship quality to generate the most significant benefits. Using the PRISMA framework, 123 articles were identified as relevant for this review which explores the state of the literature on CBM relationships describing the main findings regarding the characteristics of the relationship and the mediating and moderating variables. An essential ingredient that consistently emerged for generating mentoring outcomes is characterized by feelings of support, sensitivity, and trust and accompanied by a purposeful approach to shaping the goals of the relationship. A balanced approach comprised of recreational, emotional, and catalyzing aspects has been reported as essential for mentoring success. Mentors’ positive attitudes toward underprivileged youth, maturity in terms of age and experience are essential in forging positive relationships. Mentees who have better relational histories and more positive personality traits exhibited higher relationship quality. However, data imply the possibility of addressing mentees from moderate risk status. Preliminary evidence on thriving as a mediating variable was found. Program practices, such as training, parental involvement, and matching based on perceived similarities and similar interests, emerged as important factors. Generating many research suggestions, the review identifies research questions and uncharted territories that require inquiry.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The current review illustrates the theoretical and empirical efforts undertaken over the last twenty years to capture the nature of CBM relationships. It demonstrates the importance of a single robust relational factor that includes the correlated dimensions of support, sensitivity, and trust to promote mentoring outcomes. Furthermore, the review highlights the impact of a balanced relationship in terms of the emotional tone, activities, structure, and hierarchy and underscores the need to adopt a more purposeful or intentional approach to shaping the goals of the relationship. Qualitative findings have yielded a triple typology, comprising the recreational, emotional, and catalyzing aspects of the relationship, which need further conceptualization and operationalization. The effect of duration on mentoring outcomes and mentoring quality emerged as significant, especially for long-term mentoring relationships and for mentoring programs with no definite ending point.

Concerning the participants’ characteristics, the findings point to the benefits of mentors’ maturity in terms of age, attitudes toward underprivileged youth, experience, and of a certain measure of vulnerability when forming empathic relationships. Furthermore, some evidence indicated the advantage of the conditional assumption (i.e., the conditional assumption holding that mentees who have better relational history and have more positive personality traits exhibited higher relationship quality over the compensatory assumption). However, the review provides a certain optimism concerning the prospect of including mentees from various age groups and moderate risk status. Moreover, preliminary evidence on thriving and positive youth development as mediating variables may lead to a better understanding of the relationship’s course. Finally, the importance of training, parental involvement, and matching based on perceived similarities and similar interests emerged as important factors contributing to the quality of various types of mentoring relationships.

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