Primary Sources: Evidence That ‘Natural Mentoring’ Works Regardless of Ethnicity

photograph of a teen boy posing with his mentor

The Role of Important Non-Parental Adults (VIPs) in the Lives of Older Adolescents: A Comparison of Three Ethnic Groups” (PDF, 201.56 KB), Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Volume 40, Number 3, March 2011.

What it's about: The authors surveyed a group of Hispanic, Asian-American and white adolescents, ages 17 to 19, who said they had a close relationship with an adult who was not their parent. The study aimed to find out whether these natural mentors, or VIPs, had a similar effect on young people’s development and behavior regardless of ethnicity. The authors also wanted to see if teens with boyfriends or girlfriends were less affected by their VIPs.

Why read it: This study builds on research suggesting that natural mentors—whether siblings, older friends, aunts or uncles, grandparents, cousins or teachers—can positively influence teens’ self-esteem and reduce their likelihood of getting into trouble. As youth workers know, the influence of an adult role model may be especially important for adolescents with strained or constrained relationships with their parents, such as unaccompanied youth and children of prisoners.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Natural mentors can play important roles in the lives of teens regardless of ethnic background. Youth of all ethnic groups in this study saw their mentors as being warmer, more accepting and more stable than their parents and peers. VIPs of all ethnicities positively affected teens by increasing their self-esteem and reducing problem behaviors. And across the board, youth with a boyfriend or girlfriend benefited just as much from having a natural mentor as did their single peers.

Additional reference: This list of research from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Network includes several articles on natural mentoring.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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