New research investigates long-term impacts of natural mentors

architecture-1851496_1280Miranda-Chan, T., Fruiht, V., Dubon, V., & Wray-Lake, L. (2016). The functions and longitudinal outcomes of adolescents’ naturally occurring mentorships. American Journal of Community Psychology, 57, 47-59.

Summarized by Sam Burton




Research has demonstrated that having strong relationships with non-parental adults relates to positive outcomes for adolescents, such as performing better in school and exhibiting fewer problem behaviors. Recently, there has been an emergence of research within the field of mentoring that focuses on naturally occurring mentoring relationships that form without the help of a formal program. These naturally occurring mentorships have been shown to provide the same benefits as formal mentoring relationships. We know less, though, about the long-term effects of naturally occurring mentoring relationships on youth development. Miranda-Chan, Fruiht, Dubon, and Wray-Lake examine the long-term outcomes related to having a naturally occurring nonfamily community mentor during adolescence. They investigate the long-term benefits of having a mentor, once the youth has transitioned into young adulthood, and how mentors provide support for youth development.



This study utilized data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which examined the causes of health-related behaviors of adolescence into adulthood through interviews with participants. 1,350 participants reported having a naturally occurring mentor and 1,145 participants reported not having a mentor. Quantitative analyses investigated the adult competencies associated with having a mentor in adolescence and qualitative analysis were used to code open response answers to investigate the supports that mentors provided



  • Youth who reported having a mentor during adolescence were more likely to be White, to report that their parents did not receive public assistance, and to report feeling safe in their neighborhood.
  • Having a mentor during adolescence was
    • …positively related to self-efficacy and optimism in adulthood
    • …negatively related to symptoms of depression in adulthood
    • …related to greater romantic satisfaction in adulthood
    • …related to higher educational attainment in adulthood
    • …related to a lower likelihood of having been involved in criminal activity
  • Mentors contributed to youths’ socioemotional development by enhancing their interpersonal relationships and emotional well-being, their cognitive development by improving their cognitive capacities and teaching practical skills, and their identity development by serving as positive role models and instilling positive attributes and ethics.



The authors’ findings indicate the long-term benefits of having a naturally occurring non-familial mentor during adolescence. While past research has demonstrated positive outcomes for youth with mentors, this study exemplifies the importance of mentoring relationships in adolescence as youth transition into adulthood. The study is consistent with past research that has demonstrated that mentors provide support for youth socioemotional, cognitive, and identity development. Understanding the roles mentors play in youth development is important for illuminating the mechanisms through which mentoring leads to positive outcomes for youth, both in the short-term and the long-term, and investigating these mechanisms further is an area for future research. This study connects youth mentoring relationships to adult functioning, and demonstrates the effectiveness of naturally occurring mentorships beyond adolescence and into adulthood. These results demonstrate that youth benefit from meaningful connections with adults in their lives, and that finding ways to foster these relationships would likely extend and strengthen these benefits for youth.


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