Presence of natural mentors and vigilant parents leads to more positive outcomes for Black youth

Hurd, N., Varner, F., & Rowley, S. (2013). Involved-vigilant parenting and socio-emotional well-being among Black youth: The moderating influence of natural mentoring relationships. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(10), 1583-1595. Doi: 10.1007/s10964-012-9819-y
Summarized by Jessica Cunningham


Previous research on Black youth has often operated on a deficits or challenges based approach, which has the unintended consequence of painting all Black youth as “at-risk”, and while it is true that Black youth face a multitude of unique challenges, they also have a multitude of resources. Black youth with involved vigilant parents; that is, parents who are responsive to their children’s needs and feelings but who also hold their children to high expectations have been shown to have higher academic achievement and socio-emotional well- being when compared to youth with different parent types.

Black youth also have higher levels of natural mentoring relationships than their peers, and a high percentage of those relationships are kin-based; previous researchers have posited that this may be the case because of the emphasis that the Black community puts on family. While natural mentoring and involved-vigilant parenting’s impacts on Black youths’ outcomes have been examined separately, few studies have investigated how they work in tandem to produce positive youth development.



The researchers recruited 259 early adolescents in 7th to 9th grade from the Midwestern United States; 220 participants identified as Black or African American, and 39 participants identified as bi- or multi-racial with at least one Black parent. Three middle schools which varied in socioeconomic background were used as recruitment locations for the study; information packets were mailed to families, and once consent forms were returned by parents, students participated in a 45 minute survey.

In order to determine levels of involved-vigilant parenting, researchers administered a 13 item instrument asking participants about how much their parents/caregivers monitored their activity, inductive reasoning (“how often does your caregiver give reasons to you for his/her decisions”), and problem solving.

In order to determine the presence or absence of a natural mentor, participants were asked if they had an adult who took an interest in them and to whom they could go to for support or guidance who was not their parent. Youth who responded yes to that question were asked other questions about the nature of their relationship, including relationship to the adult, how long the youth knew their mentor, closeness of the relationship, and frequency of contact. The researchers also provided a list of instrumentally and emotionally supportive tasks for mentees to endorse whether or not their mentor helped them with.

Social skills were measured using the 39 item Social Skills Rating System Student Form, which includes subscales on cooperation, assertion, empathy, and self-control.

Psychological well-being was measured using a 24-item modified version of the Ryff Scales of Psychological Well Being. Subscales include purpose in life, positive relationships with others, personal growth, autonomy, environmental mastery, and self-acceptance.



One hundred ninety five participants reported having a natural mentor, and the majority of those (65%) were related to the participants. On average, participants reported that they had known their mentor for 3-4 years, saw their mentors around once per week, and that they felt quite close to their mentor (4 out of 5), and average mentor involvement was 10.73 out of 13 items.

The researchers then split the mentees into two clusters: more connected and less connected; those in the less connected group (n = 72) had shorter relationship length, less frequent contact, lower closeness, and less involvement. The more connected group (n = 123) had just the opposite. Involved vigilant parenting was higher among youth with a natural mentor in comparison to youth without one. Youth with more connected natural mentoring relationships had higher social skills and psychological well-being than those without a natural mentor or those in a less connected relationship. There were no significant differences between those with a less connected relationship and no natural mentoring relationship. When comparing youth who had no mentoring relationship or a less connected mentoring relationship to youth with a more connected mentoring relationship, the impact of involved vigilant parenting on social skills and psychological well-being were weaker in youth with a more connected mentoring relationship than their peers with less connected relationships or no mentoring relationship.


Discussion & Conclusions:

Given the finding that youth with natural mentoring relationships had greater levels of involved vigilant parenting and that most relationships were longer than a year, the authors hypothesize that it’s possible that parental relationships may be improved by mentoring relationships. Another explanation for this is that “youth with parents who implement more involved vigilant parenting may be more likely to develop natural mentoring relationships. This may be due to increased parental efforts to foster and encourage the development of other supportive relationships in their adolescent children’s lives or the promotion of improved interpersonal skills needed to develop these relationships with non-parental adults.”

They also suggest that the finding that involved vigilant parenting had a weaker influence on social skills and psychological well-being among youth with natural mentoring relationships “may indicate that parents and natural mentors share the responsibility of positively socializing Black youth.”

But, due to the fact that this study was cross-sectional, the authors cannot determine the direction of causality in these relationships, so more longitudinal research is needed to further investigate the ways in which parents and mentors work together to create positive youth development.


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