Hurd, N. M., & Sellers, R. M. (2013). Black adolescents’ relationships with natural mentors: Associations with academic engagement via social and emotional development. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology,19(1), 76-85.
Natural mentors are caring and supportive adults that exist naturally in adolescents’ extended social networks, such as neighbors, coaches, aunts and uncles, and community members. Although studies have shown that the presence of natural mentors may contribute to improved educational outcomes among Black youth, little is known about the mechanisms through which these relationships work. The authors sought to investigate whether relationship characteristics, such as relationship length and closeness, may promote positive youth outcomes.
Data were collected from 259 Black adolescents attending 3 middle schools in a Midwestern area. Adolescents reported on whether or not they had a relationship with a natural mentor and provided some details on the characteristics of the relationship. They also completed measures of indicators of positive development. Teachers provided ratings on academic engagement.
Mentoring relationships characterized by longer duration (5 or more years), more frequent contact (at least 2-5 times a week), and greater levels of closeness demonstrated higher levels of social skills and academic engagement than other youth. Children who reported more moderate levels of connectedness with a mentor did not differ from youth without relationships with natural mentors. Strongly connected mentoring relationships involved mentors tended to be older, racially matched, and were more likely to be related to their mentees.
The findings also showed that strongly connected natural mentoring relationships contributed to greater academic engagement through greater social skills and psychological well-being, providing further support to Rhodes’ (2005) proposed model of mentoring processes.
Conclusion and Implications
Given the strong tradition of intergenerational relationships in the Black community, moderately strong levels of connectedness with nonparental adults may be more normative, and thus a stronger level of connection is vital in contributing to positive outcomes. Furthermore, older adults may be more prepared to invest in these relationships, and mentors who share their mentees’ race may feel more confident in their ability to support their mentees and connect, given shared histories, life experiences, or values.