Yale Psychiatrist Claims Mentors Help Adolescents

"The process of entering adulthood occurs between the ages of 17 and 33," and the success of the development depends on the extent to which a young person can "put his dream of himself into his life," Daniel J. Levinson, professor of Psychology at the Yale University School of Medicine, said last night.

Speaking before a crowd of 250 at Longfellow Hall, Levinson said that in a recent study he has found mentors--teachers, older friends, or authority figures--play an important role in helping young men to realize their dreams of themselves.

Levinson's talk was the 1978 Inglis Lecture, sponsored by the Graduate School of Education Colloquium Board.

In his study, composed predominately of males. Levinson has found that mentors are usually older than their proteges by eight to 15 years, and often enhance a young man's development by serving as exemplars that the protoge can admire and seek to emulate.

You Gotta Believe

Most important, a mentor "fosters a young man's development by believing in him." Most mentors are male, a fact that reflects the sociological gap between the sexes in today's society, he added.

The mentor relationship occurs primarily when the protege is between the ages of 17 and 28, and helps shift the orientation of a young man's self-image from being family-oriented to self-reliant, he said.

In addition, the mentor relationship helps the protege "integrate the inner splitting of masculine and feminine aspects of self," Levinson said. The protege learns to give without "competitive rivalry, to love without fear of homosexuality, and to be a better mentor to women" later in life, he added.

As the relationship develops, "the balance between giving and receiving becomes more equal. In giving to the mentor, the young adult strengthens his own image," Levinson said. Eventually, however, feelings of admiration, respect, gratitude and love are outweighed by resentment, intimidation and irritation and the relationship ends, he added.

"Like a normal love relationship, the mentor-protege situation is difficult to terminate in a reasonable, civil manner. On the average they last two or three years--at the most they'll last about eight to ten years," he said.

Although there are usually bad feelings on both sides after the "break-up," Levinson said after it is over a young man is "better able to look within himself."

After age 28, further stages in development bring young adults closer to self-determination, until, around age 40, former proteges become mentor figures themselves.

"It is tragic that so little good mentoring actually occurs in our society," Levinson said, adding, "It is held back by individual limitations, and the unfortunate anonymity of our educational institutions.