Erdem, G., DuBois, D. L., Larose, S., Wit, D., & Lipman, E. L. (2016). Mentoring relationships, positive development, youth emotional and behavioral problems: Investigation of a mediational model. Journal of Community Psychology, 44(4), 464-483.
Summarized by Matthew Hagler
Transition into adolescence brings increased risk for a range of mental health and behavioral problems, ranging from anxiety and depression to impulse control disorders. Mentoring programs have been consistently shown to mitigate risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties, but the observed effects have typically been modest in magnitude. Frequency and consistency of contact between the mentor and mentee as well as longer-lasting bonds and emotional closeness have been shown enhance positive outcomes of mentoring relationships. Further investigation of mediators (the mechanisms or processes through which mentoring relationships confer benefits) might enable researchers and interventionists to enhance effect sizes. Potential mediators yet to be investigated are the five key developmental assets, or the 5C’s, highlighted by Positive Youth Development (PYD) researchers: competence (social, academic, or cognitive skills), confidence (self-worth, self-esteem), connection (positive bonds with others), character (morality, integrity), and care/compassion (empathy for others). The current study investigates whether youth mentoring programs enable youth to develop these 5C’s, and whether the development of these assets, in turn, reduces emotional and behavioral problems.
The researchers analyzed data from an evaluation of a mentoring program conducted though Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada. Participants were 501 youth and their parents (ages 6 to 17) who were recruited from 20 agencies. Mentors, who were approved, screened, and trained through the agencies, were assigned to one-on-one mentoring relationships with youth. Youth and parents completed questionnaires before the relationship began and at 6, 12, 18, 24, and 30 month follow-ups. Questionnaires included youth-reported measures assessing aspects of the mentoring relationship (match duration, frequency of contact, and amount of support provided by the mentor) and each of the 5 C’s, as well as youth- and parent-reported mental health and behavioral outcomes.
Analyses were cross-sectional, meaning that they utilized data from a single time point. On average, matches lasted for 11.01 months, and over half of youth (51.8%) reported meeting with mentors at least once a week. Analyses showed that higher mentoring dose (longer match and more frequent contact) was associated with higher PYD assets (the 5C’s). Higher PYD assets were associated with lower youth- and parent- reported behavioral and emotional problems. Further, higher mentor support was indirectly associated with lower youth- and parent-reported emotional and behavioral problems via PYD assets.
As hypothesized, the development of competence, confidence, connection, character and care/compassion (PYD’s 5C’s) mediated the effects of the mentoring intervention on youth’s emotional and behavioral problems. In other words, these results suggest that greater support from mentors helped youth to develop these assets, and the assets, in turn, reduced the likelihood that they would experience emotional symptoms like anxiety or depression as well as conduct problems like lying and cheating. These findings were consistent across both youth- and parent-reported problems, increasing confidence in their validity. The findings lend support to the idea that developmental mentoring (which encourages mutual enjoyment and interaction) is more effective and beneficial than prescriptive mentoring (aimed at “transforming” the youth by passing down advice). The findings are correlational in nature because they used data from a single time point. Therefore, we cannot definitively conclude that the mentoring relationships caused youth to develop the PYD assets or that the assets caused better youth outcomes. Future studies should conduct longitudinal analyses (using multiple time points). Still, this study used a strong theoretical framework based on mentoring and positive youth development literature and provided preliminary support the development of youth assets might be and active ingredient of mentoring interventions.