What’s the current state of formal and informal mentoring for sexual and gender minority youth?

Edwards, K. M., Scheer, J. R., & Mauer, V. A. (2022). Informal and formal mentoring of sexual and gender minority youth: A systematic review. School Social Work Journal, 47(1), 37–71.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Mentorships are known for promoting positive youth and have the potential to alleviate minority stressors.
  • There’s a lack of systemic reviews that assess how informal and formal mentor relationships impact sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY).
  • This study conducted a systemic review that evaluates what is known about informal and formal mentoring for SGMY.
    • More specifically, this systemic review a) examines the extent SGMY access formal or informal mentors, b) pinpoints factors correlated with accessing a mentor, and c) ascertains outcomes correlated with accessing a mentor.
  • Findings indicate that…
    • SGMY pursues mentors who have specific traits
    • A majority of SGMY state that they have a mentor
    • Demographics are unrelated to having a mentor.
    • Mentors boost positive outcomes across academic, psychosocial, and behavioral domains.
    • According to mentors, there are differing self-efficacy levels in SGMY mentorships and contrasting motivations for becoming a mentor.
  • Informal mentorships have the potential for youth to acquire skills to cope with minority stress and decrease the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors. It also can promote positive youth development.
  • Given how mentees can be cautious in selecting a mentor due to a lack of belonging and fear of rejection, mentors need to establish a safe, affirming space.
  • Future studies need more representative samples of SGMY (for instance, researchers need to include youth who haven’t come out).

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Research demonstrates that mentoring relationships can promote positive outcomes for youth across numerous domains, a topic of importance to school social workers. Whereas most mentoring research to date has been conducted with heterosexual cisgender youth, there is a growing body of literature that examines mentoring experiences among sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY). The purpose of this article is to conduct a systematic literature review of informal and formal mentoring experiences among SGMY. Results from twelve studies that met inclusion criteria suggested that (1) the majority of SGMY report having a mentor/role model; (2) demographics are generally unrelated to having a mentor; (3) SGMY seek out mentors with certain characteristics; (4) mentors promote positive outcomes across psychosocial, behavioral, and academic domains; and (5) mentors report varying levels of self-efficacy in mentoring SGMY and disparate motivations for becoming a mentor. Several limitations of the extant literature were identified, underscoring the need for methodologically rigorous and more inclusive research. Nevertheless, preliminary research suggests that SGMY benefit from having a mentor and that efforts are needed to safely connect SGMY to high-quality informal or formal mentors.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive and critical overview of what we know to date about both informal and formal mentoring relationships among SGMY including the perspectives of mentors of SGMY. Specifically, we sought to better understand the extent to which SGMY access informal and/or formal mentors, identify factors that are associated with accessing a mentor, and determine outcomes that are associated with accessing a mentor. Finally, we paid close attention to potential differences in results as a function of the mentor’s status (i.e., informal vs. formal). Our findings demonstrated that SGMY seek mentors with certain characteristics (e.g., supportiveness), most SGMY report having a mentor, and that having a mentor is generally unrelated to demographics. Further, mentors promote positive outcomes across multiple domains and report varying levels of self-efficacy and motivations for mentoring SGMY. These findings underscore the need to facilitate SGMY’s connection to high-quality informal or formal mentors, especially for SGMY youth who may have inaccessible mentors, such as celebrity role models, as documented by Bird and colleagues (2012).

Based on the literature reviewed here, it seems that the majority of SGMY seek out mentors although many do not seek formal mental and behavioral health services (Lytle et al., 2018). Although more empirical research is needed, these informal mentoring relationships may promote positive identity development and the acquisition of skills that help SGMY cope in healthy ways with minority stressors and reduce engagement in risk behaviors (Kuper et al., 2014; Reisner et al., 2015).

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