Black, D.S., Grenard, J.L., Sussman, S. & Rohrbach, L.A. (2010). The influence of school-based natural mentoring relationships on school attachment and subsequent adolescent risk behaviors. Health Education Research, 25(5), 892-902.
Background: Adolescents spend a significant percentage of time at school and in after school programs, which have the potential to offer a variety of prosocial activities and pursuits. Youth who are not engaged in such activities are more likely to become involved in substance use and other problem behaviors. This study focuses on adolescents’ relationships with non-parental adults, particularly school personnel, within the school context, and explores the potential of natural mentoring relationships in influencing school engagement and risk behavior.
Methodology: The current study included a diverse sample of 2,097 adolescents from 65 high schools within 14 school districts across eight states. The students, whose average age was 14.8 years, completed questionnaires at the beginning of the study and one year later. Students reported on the presence of school-based natural mentoring relationships, school attachment, substance use and violent behaviors.
Results: The presence of school-based natural mentoring relationships encouraged school attachment which, in turn, was associated with reductd risk behaviors, including violent behavior, drug and alcohol use, and binge drinking. These results were significant above and beyond the potential influence of youth’s age, gender, ethnicity, and household composition.
Conclusion: This study demonstrated how natural mentors within the school context can support pro-social behavior, particularly school engagement, and deter risk behaviors amongst adolescents. School is a place where various aspects of development beyond academic learning can occur. Caring teachers and other adults at school can facilitated socio-emotional, cognitive and identity development.
The study’s findings have implications for formal mentoring programs. School-based mentoring programs and researchers alike can consider ways to better integrate mentors into the school structure in ways that encourage school attachment and reduced problem behaviors.