New study explores the contexts, barriers, and motivations of friend’s parents and family friends as natural youth mentors

Christensen, K. M., & Poon, C. Y. S. (2021). Exploring Friend’s Parents and Family Friends as Natural Mentors for Youth: Contexts, Motivation, and Barriers. Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Natural mentorships are a viable way to provide emotional, social, functional, and instrumental support for youth.
  • Granovetter’s model is often used to conceptualize natural mentors.
    • Strong ties are composed of relationships within your close social network.
    • Broader, heterogenous, and nonfamiliar relationships are weaker.
  • Despite the common usage of this model, it conceals relationships that do not fit in this dichotomy.
  • This paper consists of two studies that assess the role family friends and friends’ parents have on youth as a unique type of natural mentor.
  • Findings from study 1 indicate that specific demographic traits correlate with having a friend’s parent as a mentor.
  • Family friend/friend’s parent mentors were less likely to be involved in institutional settings (e.g., schools and religious facilities) than strong and weak tie mentors in study 2.
  • However, family friends and friends’ parent mentors were more likely to be involved in non-profits, medical facilities, and other similar settings than strong tie mentors.
  • While family friend/friend’s parent mentors didn’t actively look for mentoring opportunities or were motivated to give back to their communities, they were still willing to mentor youth from their close social network if they asked them.
  • Family friend/friend’s parent mentors were less likely to feel intimidated by severe needs of the mentee (or their family) than strong and weak tie mentors.
    • They were also less likely to perceive hardships in establishing support or trust from the caretakers than weak tie mentors.
  • Scholars and practitioners need to consider various aspects of youth identity to understand patterns in accessing natural mentors.
  • Training youth and parents to obtain the skills to reach out to caring adults in their lives might also be beneficial.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Natural mentors are important developmental assets for youth. To understand the nature and influence of natural mentors, scholars have often adopted Granovetter’s (1973) model, where “strong ties” refer to individuals in one’s close social network and “weak ties” refer to a broader network of heterogeneous relationships with nonfamilial others. This dichotomy can obscure the role of certain mentors like family friends and friend’s parents, who may transverse these categories. We used a multi-informant approach, drawing on mentee and mentor data from two nationally representative studies, to explore family friends and friend’s parents as a unique type of natural mentor. Study 1 (n = 3,133) uses Add Health data to explore the sociodemographic predictors of these mentors, whereas Study 2 (n = 343) uses the Power of Relationships Study to examine contexts, motivations, and perceived barriers associated with this previously understudied group of mentors. Results revealed significant sociodemographic predictors of having a friend’s parent or family friend mentor. In addition, results suggest that these ties engage in mentoring in youth-accessible contexts, often mentor as a result of a request from a youth’s parent, and that they may be less likely to perceive certain barriers to mentoring youth. Implications about the role of this specific type of natural mentor are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This paper explored family friends and youths’ friend’s parents as natural mentors through two empirical studies. Results from Study 1 (Add Health) suggest that specific youth sociodemographic characteristics are associated with mentorship from a friend’s parent. Using this large dataset allowed us to examine the prevalence of this natural mentor, demonstrating that friend’s parents are equal in prevalence or more prevalent than some other common natural mentors. However, these natural mentoring relationships may be more likely to form for youth with certain sociodemographic characteristics. When compared to youth with weak tie mentors, youth with single parents were more likely to be mentored by a friend’s parent. Although youth who live with both parents are generally more likely to have mentors (Erickson et al., 2009; McDonald & Lambert, 2014), mentors have a particularly important role to play for youth from single-parent households in providing additional social support and resources (Keller, 2005).

When compared to youth with strong and weak tie mentors, youth with friend’s parent mentors were less likely to be Asian. Youth with these mentors were also less likely to be Black when compared to youth with strong tie mentors. These findings are consistent with previous research demonstrating that White youth are more likely to have natural mentors than youth from marginalized ethnic and racial backgrounds (Erickson et al., 2009; McDonald & Lambert, 2014). These results also align with findings from one study of parents’ attitudes about nonparental adult involvement in raising children, in which non-Western parents reported less reliance on informal, nonparental supports (Kesselring et al., 2012).

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