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, 892-902.
Summarized by Emily Manove, UMB clinical psychology doctoral student
New research suggests that naturally occurring mentoring relationships may reduce risk-taking behavior in adolescents, including substance use and violence. Models of social development and youth mentoring (e.g., Rhodes, 2005) hold that mentoring relationships may decrease adolescent risk behavior by modeling prosocial behavior such as conventional relationships and involvement in school activities, which then reduces the likelihood of engagement in risky behavior. Research however is limited, especially regarding the impact of natural mentoring in schools. Black and colleagues examined the impact of natural mentoring relationships within schools (e.g., mentoring relationships with adult school staff) on risky behaviors and school attachment. School attachment refers to how a student thinks and feels about her school and fellow students.
Data were collected as part of a larger study of an evidence-based substance use prevention program (Project Toward No Drug Abuse), which drew a sample of 3320 students from 65 high schools in eight states (CA, AZ, KS, LA, SC, WA, MD and MA). The students were 53% female and their average age was 14.8 years, from diverse ethnic backgrounds (41% White, 29% Latino, 16% Black, 3% Asian and 11% other including mixed ethnicity). The students completed surveys including measures of natural mentoring, school attachment, substance use and violence, at baseline and at a one-year follow-up.
- Natural mentoring was linked to greater school attachment. Students with natural in-school mentors were more likely to report positive thoughts about their school and fellow students.
- Natural mentoring was tied to less use of alcohol, marijuana, and hard drugs. Students with natural in-school mentors were less likely to use alcohol, marijuana or hard drugs.
- Natural mentoring was also tied to fewer risk behaviors generally. Natural mentoring was tied to more positive thoughts about school and fellow students, which in turn was linked to less substance use overall, and to less violence perpetration and victimization.
These findings fit previous research that found that natural mentoring was linked to adolescent educational engagement. These findings differ from some prior studies however that found that natural mentoring was not tied to less alcohol use. However, this may be due to sample size and other methodological differences.
These findings are supported by both youth mentoring and social development models, which hold that mentoring can influence youth in the areas of emotional, cognitive and identity development, all of which are very relevant in the school context. For example, natural mentors may be able to help students regulate emotions in school, including by helping them to increase positive emotions through greater engagement in school activities, and to decrease negative emotions by supporting them in situations where they feel shame or fear. Natural in-school mentors may also promote students’ cognitive development through, e.g., helping them problem-solve. Promoting thinking strategies and supporting students emotionally may also aid student identity development.
The development of natural mentoring relationships in schools should be further explored as a possible path towards enhancing positive feelings about school and thereby reducing student involvement in risk behaviors including substance use and violence. School-based mentoring programs may wish to consider focusing on enhancing school attachment as a means of indirectly reducing risk behavior. Schools and mentoring programs generally may wish to examine ways that natural in-school mentoring can be increased, in particular for at-risk students.