How natural mentoring improves academic engagement

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 7.01.20 PM

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.

summarized by Stella Kanchewa, MA, UMB doctoral student in clinical psychology 

Researchers have demonstrated the role that natural mentoring relationships play in affecting youth’s academic attitudes and engagement, as well as other behavioral and interpersonal outcomes. In this study, Hurd and colleagues seek to identify the relationship characteristics need to be in place in order for these relationships to maximize their full potential. Previous research has found that the quality of the mentoring relationship is an important factor. In the current study, Hurd and colleagues explore the characteristics of the natural relationships of Black early adolescents from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

Method: The current study included 259 adolescents in 7th -9th  grades (average age = 13.6 years old) from three middle schools in a Midwestern metropolitan area. Participants completed surveys, as did their social studies and English teachers. Students reported on the presence of natural mentors in their lives, the characteristics of these relationships, as well as information about their social skills, psychological well-being and academic engagement. The researchers used participants’ data regarding the characteristics of their mentoring relationships (i.e., the relationship length, frequency of contact, and level of closeness and involvement) in order to explore whether variations amongst these characteristics generated unique mentoring relationship profiles using a statistical approach known as cluster analysis.

Results: Two distinct mentoring relationship profiles emerged. The first profile, labeled as less connected, identified relationships that were shorter in duration, had infrequent contact, and lower levels of closeness and involvement. In contrast, the second profile, labeled as more connected, identified matches that were longer in duration, had more frequent contact, and reported more closeness and involvement.

Relative to adolescents without mentors, youth in more connected mentoring relationships reported greater social skills, which in turn were related to greater student and teacher reported academic engagement. In addition, youth in more connected relationships also reported greater psychological well-being, which was also associated with their self-reported academic engagement. These findings were significant above and beyond the influences of participant’s age, gender, school district and caregiver’s education. Adolescents in less connected relationships did not differ from youth without mentoring relationships.

Conclusion: In this study, the strength of the connection formed between mentors and youth was associated with youth’s academic engagement through its influence on youth’s social and psychological well-being. The findings support previous research highlighting the importance of relationship characteristics (e.g., match duration, intensity and quality) in shaping the relationship’s trajectory, and subsequent benefits of relationships with nonparental adults. The study’s findings also provide a better understanding of factors that may be important within the experiences of Black adolescents’ natural mentoring relationships, particularly the types of relationships within which youth thrive best.