New research looks at mentor self-disclosure in mentoring pairs
This study aims to capture descriptive data on how mentors self‐disclose to their adolescent mentees. Self‐disclosure is a normative communication process that facilitates trust and closeness in interpersonal relationships. Despite being a relational intervention, little is known about self‐disclosure in youth‐mentoring relationships. A total of 54 mentors from 2 community‐based mentoring programs in Auckland, New Zealand, participated in this mixed‐methods study about their experiences of disclosing to mentees via an online questionnaire. In this sample, mentors disclosed about various topics, including hobbies, school and work, health, beliefs, self‐esteem, substance use, emotions, sex, and money. Qualitative analysis identified themes regarding how mentors self‐disclose, disclosure influencing positive relationship characteristics, the influence of mentoring programs, challenges with mentee interest and culture clashes, and the perceived effect of self‐disclosure on mentees and the mentoring relationship. These mentors disclosed broadly and viewed generally self‐disclosure in a positive way, but they also experienced challenges and complexities.
In both the quantitative and qualitative data, the mentors in this sample almost universally perceived self‐disclosure as having a positive effect on either their mentee or their mentoring relationship. This response is particularly strong for items in Part A, which suggests the items typically considered to be part of the “getting to know you” phase of a relationship are building rapport and warmth as intended. These positive perceptions of self‐disclosure are not unfounded; as discussed earlier, research has shown how self‐disclosure can be beneficial to relationships, particularly when it comes to developing highly desired relationship characteristics such as trust and closeness (Derlega et al., 1993; Greene et al., 2006).
Of particular interest is the idea of mentors disclosing to identify similarities with their adolescent mentees, which in turn enhances their relationship. Therapists have reported using disclosure with adolescents specifically for this purpose (Gaines, 2003; Papouchis, 1990; Simon, 1990). Some aspects of adolescence, such as an increased desire for independence, decision making, and intimacy, are universal, and by drawing on their own experiences in these areas, mentors may be able to help support their mentee and build a stronger relationship. In contrast to Part A, the perceived effect of self‐disclosure was more mixed for items in Parts B and C. The additional complexity and intimacy of these items may have made it more difficult for these mentors to recognize how their disclosures could affect the relationship.
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