How a program supporting mentoring relationships affects the promotion of children’s developmental, social, behavioral outcomes and mental health


February 27, 2020/in  /by 

This study examined the relationship between youth mentoring status and behavioral, developmental, and emotional outcomes for 859 youths aged 6–17 participating in a national survey of Big Brothers Big Sisters community mentoring relationships (MRs). Youth self-reported behaviors and mental health occurred at the baseline assessment (before being paired to a mentor) and at 18 months follow-up. Youth mentoring status was categorized as follows: (1) continuous MR less than 12 months (n = 131); (2) continuous MR 12 or more months (n= 253); (3) dissolved MR less than 12 months (n = 110); (4) dissolved MR 12 or more months (n = 70); 5) MR with a second mentor (re-matched; n= 83); and (6); never mentored (n = 212). Structural equation model results at 18 months revealed that mentored youths, especially those in MR lasting 12 or more months (continuous or dissolved), reported significantly fewer behavioral problems and fewer symptoms of depression and social anxiety than did nonmentored youths. They also reported stronger coping skills and emotional support from parents. Mentored girls and boys in long-term relationships experienced positive outcomes. Rematched girls displayed better outcomes than did nevermentored girls while there was some evidence of harmful outcomes for re-matched boys. Threats to internal validity are examined including the possibility of pre-existing baseline differences between mentored and non-mentored youths. Implications for mentoring programs are discussed.

In general, this study provided support for a more refined mentoring construct. After adjusting for potential confounders known to influence the development of mentoring relationships and positive youth outcomes (i.e., personal and environmental factors), youths in mentoring relationships lasting 12 or more months experienced health and social benefits compared to never-mentored youths. This result supports existing models of youth mentoring (e.g., Rhodes et al. 2006) which posit that the processes of change through which mentoring influences youth social-emotional, identity, and cognitive development (e.g., changes in the way youth view themselves or approach relationships with others) take time to fully develop such that positive changes in development are not likely to surface until well into the growth and maintenance phase of the mentoring relationship. 

Why youths in dissolved long-term relationships faired just as well as those in ongoing long-term relationships is unclear. To explore this question, a close examination of the study data revealed that two thirds of the dissolved relationships ended exactly at 12 months. This finding could mean that the BBBS policy of a minimum 12-month commitment may have had the unintended effect of leading some mentors and mentees early in the program to anticipate, expect, or even plan for relationships to close at the end of the 12-month period. If many of these mentors and mentees parted on good terms, it might explain why youths in the dissolved long-term category benefited just as much as youths in the ongoing category. Unfortunately, it is not possible to test this hypothesis. The current study did not collect information on mentor or mentee expectations around relationship continuity or possible prearranged informal agreements for relationships to end to coincide with the minimum 12-month period of commitment.

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