Levi Van Dam, L., Wildschut, B., Smit, D., Branje, S., Rhodes, J., Assink, M., Stams, G. J., (in press).
Does natural mentoring matter? A multilevel meta-analysis on the association between natural mentoring and youth outcomes.
American Journal of Community Psychology.
By Levi Van Dam and Jean Rhodes
Natural mentoring relationships are far more common than those forged through programs. Indeed, only about 5% of American youth are assigned to mentors through programs (Raposa et al., 2016), whereas an estimated 75% report having a natural mentor (Erickson et al., 2014). Despite their ubiquity, meta-analyses have focused almost exclusively on the impact of formal mentoring relationships. Led by Levi van Dam and meta-analytic expert, Prof. Geert-Jan Stams, our team coded and conducted analyses of 30 studies (with 222 effect sizes) from 1992 to present to assess the overall relation between natural mentoring and youth outcomes. The first meta-analysis focused on the presence or absence of a natural mentor, in which most studies could be included. Since some studies focused on the quality (i.e, closeness, duration) and availability of a natural mentor, instead of the presence or absence, the second meta-analysis was conducted to assess the relation between the quality of the natural mentoring relationship and youth outcomes.
A small, significant relation was found between the presence of a natural mentor and youth outcomes (r = .106, or d = .21) indicating that the presence of a natural mentor was modestly, but significantly associated with more positive youth outcomes. This effect is comparable to effects found in many meta-analyses of formal youth mentoring, which have found effects in d = .18 to .21 range. Also consistent with formal mentoring, the percentage of mentors with a helping profession background(e.g., teacher, guidance counselor, minister/priest/rabbi, religious leader, doctor/ therapist), significantly moderated the relation between the presence of a natural mentor and youth outcomes. Such adults may be particularly important in educational and community settings where youth are building new (bridging) forms of social capital.
The meta-analysis on the relation between the quality of the natural mentoring relationship and youth outcomes found a small-to-medium, significant relation between the quality of the natural mentoring relationship and youth outcomes (r = .208; i.e., d = .416). This is a promising finding, and indicates that the quality of the natural mentoring relationship was significantly associated with more positive youth outcomes. Importantly, risk-status did not moderate the relation between presence and quality of natural mentoring relationships and youth outcomes, which may indicate that natural mentors are generally beneficial for all youth.
The results highlight the importance of natural mentoring relationships in the lives of youth, indicating that the presence of a natural mentor is related to positive outcomes and that the quality of the natural mentoring relationship can increase those positive outcomes.
The findings are consistent with conclusions from a systematic review of natural mentoring in foster care (Thompson, Greeson, & Brunsink, 2016). But, since the current meta-analysis included nationally representative samples, the findings are applicable to youth in general. Furthermore, the relatively robust positive finding for the quality of the natural mentoring relationship is particularly encouraging.
Given that natural mentoring relationships show small to moderate associations with positive youth outcomes, are far more common, and require less infrastructure and investment than formal mentoring relationships, it seems important to strengthen the “relational capacity” of the everyday settings of youth and foster opportunities for natural mentoring relationships to develop. The mentoring partnerships of Eastern Pennsylvania and Mass Mentoring are doing just that, with exciting work in this area. These findings also highlight the importance of ensuring that all youth, not just those who have access to networks with high social capital, have access to caring teachers, employers, and other adults who can serve as role models and have the relationship skills to provide developmental opportunities. Along these lines, efforts that encourage and teach youth how to recruit natural mentors, and mobilize adults in more freely sharing their social resources, represent promising directions for community mental health intervention (Schwartz et al., 2013; Schwartz et al., 2017; Van Dam et al., 2017).
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