The Long-Term Effects of Youth Mentoring on Student Mentors' Civic Engagement Attitudes and Behavior

Feb. 03, 2017

Source:  Journal of Community Psychology 2017; 00: 1–13


The current study was designed to explore the delayed effect of participating in youth mentoring programs, training in civic engagement, and activism on a sample of 337 Israelis 5 to 10 years after serving as student mentors. Qualitative and quantitative findings showed that these former mentors' perception of the contribution of mentoring was correlated with their current civic engagement attitudes and activism.

Further, the perceived quality of training during mentoring was correlated with the overall perceived contribution of mentoring and current civic engagement attitudes. A mediation model showed that the perceived quality of training was correlated with the former mentors' perceived mentoring contribution. This in turn was correlated with current civic engagement attitudes, which themselves were correlated with their current civic engagement activism. The former mentors' narratives revealed their attainment of new skills and abilities, including an increased ability to relate to and understand young children and disadvantaged populations.

The participants were young adults who had served as student mentors in Perach (the Hebrew word for “flower” and also the acronym of the mentoring and tutoring project), the Israeli community-based formal mentoring program. The program matches approximately 22,000 university and college students every year with at-risk elementary school children from second to sixth grades. Children are chosen from schools earmarked for the program by the Ministry of Education. These schools are selected according to the socioeconomic status of the students in general, based on several criteria such as average parental income, parents’ education, and the average ratio between number of children in the family and the number of rooms in the family home.

After the schools are chosen, specific children are referred to the program by their homeroom teachers according to their level of adjustment (e.g., low levels of welfare and well-being, social detachedness, behavioral and discipline problems, and poor academic performance) and families’ needs. Teachers are guided to select children who can benefit from a close relationship with a nonprofessional university student to enhance their level of adjustment in one or more areas. The matching of mentors and protégés is usually based on similar areas of interests and temperament, as well as the protégé’s socioemotional needs and the mentor’s ability to address them.

The intervention is relatively structured and short term and lasts for the duration of the academic year from November until the end of June, a total of 8 months. Protégés receive four contact hours per week in their natural surroundings (usually their home). The mentors’ activity is based on the notion of "developmental mentoring,” in which the primary focus is on facilitating the relationship between themselves and the protégé as a way of promoting child development. This reflects the assumption that mentoring influences social, emotional, and academic development through the creation of a supportive relationship (Karcher, Kuperminc, Portwood, Sipe, & Tylor, 2006).

Mentors receive monthly guidance from Perach coordinators on specific issues such as the mentor’s role, qualities of positive mentoring relationships, typical phases, periods and difficulties during the relationship, and preparation for the planned separation. In these meetings, the mentor and coordinator defines a specific plan including goals and activities for each protégé, which serves as a guide for the mentors. In addition, mentors are provided with written materials, organized meetings with the protégé’s teachers, and professional counseling by educational counselors when needed.

A total of 377 young adults (N = 377) who served as student mentors in college between 2005 and 2010 participated in the study, 30% (n = 127) of which were males and the remainder (n = 250) were females.

The current study examined the contribution of youth mentoring programs to former mentors’ perceived personal growth, and their civic engagement and activism 5 to 10 years after serving as mentors. Embracing a social perspective, the overarching goal was to encourage and better understand the mechanisms that promote this engagement.

In general, the analyses suggested that the former mentors perceived the mentoring activity as a positive and beneficial experience, and this recollection may have translated into their present-day positive attitudes and greater civic engagement. Because the former mentors were assessed 5 to 10 years after the mentoring experience, these findings suggest that there may be long-term effects of mentoring on later civic activism. This is consistent with findings that highlight the relationship between students’ involvement in civic engagement activities and higher levels of selfcompetence, personal growth, leadership and interpersonal skills, a better understanding of the lives of high-risk youth and commitment to social activity after college (Astin & Astin, 2000; Astin et al., 2000; Fresko & Wertheim 2001, 2006).

In addition, the analyses suggest that training may serve as an important vehicle in perceiving greater benefits from mentoring and in creating positive civic engagement attitudes and engagement. These results extend findings in the field of youth mentoring regarding the importance of mentors’ training for their own as well as mentees’ development. Training that orients mentors toward the goals of the mentoring and provides essential tools on how to be effective mentors appears to have increased these mentors’ sense of the contribution of mentoring (Faith, Fiala, Cavell, & Hughes, 2011; Hughes et al., 2010) and enhanced their self-efficacy as active members in society.

The paths of mediation may shed light on the way civic engagement behavior develops in young adults who served as student mentors while in school. In general, the young adults who were involved in a helping-mentoring relationship and perceived this involvement as beneficial appear to have embraced helping attitudes and behavior. The role of self-perceived mentoring contribution is especially interesting given the full mediation model and the lack of direct association between the former mentors’ self-perceived quality of training on mentoring youth during mentoring and later civic engagement behavior. Thus, the self-perceived mentoring contribution can be considered to have shaped the mentors’ future civic involvement. This suggests that mentors should be aware of the potential inherent to the mentoring relationship for not only mentees’ development

Updated: Apr. 26, 2017