New study shows how mentors support the parent-adolescent relationship

Billingsley, J. T., Rivens, A. J., Charity-Parker, B. M., Chang, S. H., Garrett, S. L., Li, T., & Hurd, M. (2021). Familial Mentor Support and Black Youths’ Connectedness to Parents Across Adolescence. Youth & Society, 0044118X211058215.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin  

Notes of Interest:

  • Many Black adolescents undergo various developmental changes while experiencing risk factors commonly associated with systemic inequality and racism.
  • Evidence suggests that having close relationships with parents can help foster adolescent well-being and positive development. 
  • This study assesses the role family mentor support has in promoting connectedness in parent-adolescent relationships across adolescent developmental stages. 
  • Familiar mentor support might be as helpful in increasing youths’ connectedness to their parents across developmental stages. 
  • Many mentors encouraged parent-adolescent relationships by promoting understanding between adolescents & parents, behaving as sounding boards, and instructing positive communication approaches. 
  • Findings also show that family mentors might adapt to their adolescent relatives’ developmental shifts.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract) 

This mixed method study explored whether and how familial mentor support may have influenced the parent-adolescent relationship, and whether the impact of familial mentor support on the parent-adolescent relationship may have differed across adolescents’ developmental stage. Findings from analyses of survey data from 106 Black adolescents indicated that familial mentor support may be equally beneficial for youths’ connectedness to parents across developmental stage. Interview data from a subset of 12 adolescents, their primary caregivers, and familial mentors were analyzed to better understand how familial mentors supported the parent-adolescent bond and whether the nature of mentor support differed between early and middle adolescents. Qualitative findings indicated that mentors supported the parent-adolescent relationship by acting as sounding boards; coaching positive communication strategies; and promoting understanding between youth and their parents. Additionally, findings indicated that familial mentors may be attuned to developmental changes experienced by their adolescent relatives.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion) 

Findings from the current study contribute to our understanding of normative support processes happening in Black families. First, quantitative results of the present investigation suggest that greater natural mentor support of Black youth may lead them to feel a greater sense of connectedness to parents during adolescence. This finding suggests that natural mentors may be an important resource for helping youth maintain close bonds with parents during a period typically marked by increased relational distance. This finding is in line with theory (Rhodes, 2005) and prior empirical work (Chan et al., 2013; Hurd et al., 2013; Renick Thomson & Zand, 2010); however, the current study also provided the opportunity to build on previous research by investigating how natural mentors may be supporting the parent-adolescent relationship within Black families.

A central way familial mentors may be supporting the parent-adolescent bond is through coaching parents and youth on effective communication and conflict resolution strategies. Specifically, in the current study, we found that familial natural mentors often provided adolescents and parents advice on effective communication skills and emotion management when experiencing conflict or disagreement with one another. For instance, families indicated that familial natural mentors often discouraged parents from using harsh punishment of youth, and advised youth to follow their parents’ instruction and refrain from arguing with their parents. This finding not only builds on work in the mentoring literature suggesting that mentors may help youth manage negative emotions and develop emotional competence (Brady et al., 2015), but also expands our understanding of family communication processes by highlighting the ways familial mentors directly intervened to intentionally support and strengthen the parent-child relationship. This is one of the first studies to date to document the specific ways in which familial mentors leverage their position in the family to meaningfully engage both members of the parent-adolescent dyad to promote healthy communication and conflict resolution.

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