Youth Mentoring Relationships in Context: Mentor Perceptions of Youth, Environment, and the Mentor Role
Lakind, Rebecca D.
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Few studies focus on mentors’ sense of their place within the existing constellation of mentee relationships and settings. Further, few studies explore how mentors’ perceptions of their mentees’ environments may relate to the fulfillment of the mentoring role. This qualitative study examines how mentors’ perceptions of program youth and their environments informed their descriptions of their mentoring role: the nature of their involvement, their impact, and their perceptions of challenges. Analyses of interviews revealed that mentors commonly characterized environmental factors as risks, and conceptualized youths’ own negative behaviors as byproducts of their environments, whereas individual-level strengths were seen as existing “in spite of” environmental inputs. Mentors described their roles as youth-focused, and couched their work within their perceptions of youths’ contexts. However, they also worked closely with other key individuals. Mentors described challenges associated with role overload, and navigating role boundaries. Some also described feeling unsupported by other adults in mentees’ lives, or frustrated at the prevalence of risks. Examination of mentors’ perceptions of mentees and their environments and mentors’ conceptualizations of their role fulfillment and challenges suggests that the link is consequential, and that mentoring may be optimized by equipping mentors to more effectively navigate their mentees’ environments such as by forming close active partnerships with other key individuals.