How relationships with trusted adults can benefit youth

Meltzer, A., Muir, K., Craig, L. (2018). The role of trusted adults in young people’s social and economic lives. Youth & Society. DOI: 10.1177/0044118X16637610

Summarized by Karina DeAndrade

Notes of Interest: The purpose of this article was to explore the importance of relationships between youth and trusted, non-parental adults, as well as the impact these relationships can have on youth. Findings suggest that these relationships are beneficial to youth as these trusted adults can encourage them and give them advice in a more relaxed manner than typical parents or family members. Such relationships are especially beneficial to youth as they are developing and transitioning into adulthood.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

In moving toward adulthood, young people make formative choices about their social and economic engagement while developmentally seeking autonomy from parents. Who else then contributes to guiding young people during this formative life-stage? This article explores one contributing relationship: relationships with trusted adults. Past research has shown that these adults provide motivational, emotional, and instrumental support to young people, but less is known about how and why their support is appropriate particularly during young adulthood. Using qualitative data from an Australian Research Council–funded study, the article explores how and why trusted adults are important and influential, detailing how they talk, what they offer, and how their role differs according to young people’s level of engagement or disengagement from education/employment. The article explores how the trusted adult relationship is developmentally appropriate for young people and outlines implications for policy and future research.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This article sought to understand what enables trusted adults to guide young people’s social and economic engagement at a time when young people are moving away from other adults, such as parents. It found that the trusted adults in this study have a characteristic way of talking not telling, which means they provide the support, encouragement, role modeling and practical assistance that young people need as they move toward adulthood in a lowkey, direct, and equitable or nonhierarchical way. Other studies have also highlighted a down-to-earth and respectful manner where trusted adults do not “beat around the bush” (Ahrens et al., 2011; Munson et al., 2010, p. 531) and that trusted adults provide emotional, developmental, and practical assistance (Beam et al., 2002; Liang et al., 2008). This article adds the understanding that this low-key, direct, and equitable manner is particularly appropriate to young people’s stage of development, where they need guidance, but wish to receive it in a way where they can feel like they are also progressing into adulthood (Aquilino, 2006).

Furthermore, the article sought to understand the difference in trusted adults’ role according to young people’s engagement/risk status in education and employment. It found that talking not telling and support, encouragement, and role modeling are characteristic regardless of young people’s engagement/ risk status. The type of practical assistance trusted adults offered, however, differed. While their practical assistance is augmentative with engaged young people, it can play a more extensive role in trying to address and/or reverse other young people’s disengagement. That is, where the need is higher, trusted adults have more influence on young people’s circumstances and future trajectories. This insight gives a new picture of how the consequences of the relationship vary by young people’s level of engagement/risk. It suggests that, while potentially important for all young people, trusted adult relationships have a particularly important role for young people who are at risk of disengagement or already disengaged and who lack other supports. For these young people, the relationship holds the potential to reach them when other people cannot and, thus, to be transformative in their life experiences.


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