New study shows how family closeness can foster natural mentoring relationships among Black youth

Billingsley, J. T., Rivens, A. J., & Hurd, N. M. (2021). Family Closeness and Mentor Formation among Black Youth. Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Many studies on formal mentoring acknowledge the important influence parents have on their children’s mentoring relationships. However, there’s still a lack of research that examines the specific roles parents play in the context of youth mentoring.
  • This study explores the potential connection between primary caregivers’ & youths’ relationships with adult relatives and the presence of familial mentoring relationships within Black families.
  • Qualitative analyses revealed several different things:
    • Close relationships between primary caregivers and grown-up relatives can indirectly affect familiar mentoring relationships with youth.
    • Youth agency, in addition to the closeness between primary caregivers and their children with their grown-up relatives, can promote familiar mentoring.
  • Primary caregivers have an influential impact on their children’s relationships with grown-up relatives.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The current study examined how primary caregivers’ close relationships with adult relatives may have influenced their adolescent children’s formation of familial mentoring relationships. Using survey data from 216 Black American youth (59% girls), quantitative findings indicated that when primary caregivers had more really close relationships with adult relatives, their children also reported more really close relationships with adult relatives. In turn, having more really close relationships with adult kin was associated with youth having a familial mentor. Interviews were conducted with a subsample of 24 youth, along with their primary caregiver, and an additional adult family member (72 interviews in total). Qualitative analyses were conducted to better understand how primary caregivers may facilitate relationships between their children and adult relatives. Qualitative findings indicated that primary caregivers both directly and indirectly facilitated these relationships by modeling relational closeness and permitting interactions among their children and adult relatives. Importantly, qualitative findings also highlighted the role of youth agency in creating and maintaining close intergenerational bonds. Overall, findings suggest that primary caregivers may play an influential role in shaping the nature of their children’s relationships with adult relatives. Moreover, findings suggest that youth who lack close ties with adult relatives may benefit from intentional efforts by their primary caregivers to facilitate these relationships.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Quantitative results of our present investigation suggest that primary caregivers’ relationships with adult relatives may influence adolescents’ familial mentor formation through adolescents’ relationships with close adult relatives, but only when these relational bonds are especially close. This finding suggests that the formation of familial mentoring relationships is characterized not just by how many close relationships primary caregivers and youth have with adult relatives, but by the strength of those bonds. In short, youth who had a greater number of really close relationships with adult relatives were more likely to develop a familial mentoring relationship. Moreover, adolescents’ quantity of really close relationships was shaped by their primary caregivers’ quantity of really close relationships. Qualitative data then bolstered this finding in that primary caregiver and youth narratives demonstrated the ways in which primary caregivers directly or indirectly facilitated connections between youth and adult relatives. Specifically, findings indicated that parental facilitation occurred most frequently through indirect methods. We found that primary caregivers not only modeled close behaviors with adult relatives, but also permitted their children to spend time with adult relatives independently. This finding is in line with previous work demonstrating that primary caregivers shape the nature of their children’s relationships with adult relatives by setting examples and providing opportunities for positive interaction (Monserud 2008). In our study, primary caregivers often modeled close behaviors by engaging in leisure activities (e.g., hanging out at someone’s house, talking on the phone, and shopping) collectively with their children and a close adult relative. These interactions afforded youth additional face time with adult relatives and provided youth an opportunity to witness relational bonding behaviors shared among primary caregivers and close adult relatives. This socialization of relational closeness among adult relatives may act to shape adolescents’ working models of connection (Bowlby 1969, 1973; Monserud 2008).

Although much of the time spent among youth and adult relatives occurred in the realm of child care, there also were frequent instances of youth and adults seeking each other

out to spend time together watching movies, shopping, visiting amusement parks, and going out to eat. These exchanges were described as meaningful and memorable by youth and adults alike, supporting findings from the mentoring literature that underscore the importance of “having fun” in building and sustaining meaningful intergenerational bonds (Parra et al. 2002; Spencer et al. 2004). Shared leisure activities may facilitate mutuality and a sense of companionship which could be fundamental to the formation of mentoring bonds.

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