What contributes to positive youth development in youth of color?: New study has some answers

Bowers, E. P., Winburn, E. N., Sandoval, A. M., & Clanton, T. (2020). Culturally relevant strengths and positive development in high achieving youth of color. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 70, 101182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2020.101182

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although the positive development of high-achieving youth of color has been connected to spirituality and critical reflection, there’s still a limited amount of research that examines how these cultural strengths predict positive youth development (PYD) during adolescence – in addition to how resources/services, like mentoring, can moderate the effects of these strengths.
  • This study explores how youth strengths of spirituality, critical reflection, and mentoring relationship quality affect the positive development of high-achieving youth of color, according to the 5 C’s of PYD.
  • Findings indicate that spirituality was the most consistent variable that predicted positive youth outcomes & that younger youth benefit more from spirituality. 
    • Older youth displayed a greater relationship between critical reflection and mentoring with PYD outcomes. 
  • Results also show that increased critical reflection can function as a protective factor for PYD, connection, and character for youth with low quality mentoring relationships. 
  • Programs are recommended to connect youth with local faith institutions or adopt effective practices on interfaith learning and cooperation, in order to better engage youth’s spirituality. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Critical reflection and spirituality have been linked to the positive development of high achieving youth of color; however, little research has explored how these strengths function in predicting positive youth development (PYD) across adolescence. In addition, scant research has considered how contextual resources such as mentoring might moderate the impact of these strengths. We examined the relations among these constructs and the five Cs of PYD (competence, confidence, character, caring, and connection) in a sample of 215 youth of color (61.5% female) attending an afterschool college preparation program at six sites around the U.S. Spirituality was the most consistent predictor of PYD outcomes with younger youth benefitting more from greater spirituality. Older youth, however, exhibited greater relations between critical reflection and mentoring with PYD outcomes. When youth reported low levels of mentoring relationship quality, higher critical reflection served as a protective factor for global PYD, character, and connection. Implications for practice are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

There is a lack of research on the development of diverse youth of color from the PYD perspective, particularly among academically successful youth of color (Cabrera, 2013; Travis Jr & Leech, 2014; Rivera, 2014; Williams & Bryan, 2013). Framed by RDS metatheory (Lerner et al., 2015; Overton, 2015), the purpose of this study was to examine the effects of the youth strengths of critical reflection and spirituality and the contextual resource of mentoring relationship quality on the positive development of high achieving youth of color (as measured by the Five Cs of PYD) across adolescence. Our hypotheses were generally supported. Correlational analyses identified significant positive associations between youth age and critical reflection, but not between age and spirituality and age and mentoring (Hypothesis 1). Bivariate correlations indicated that spirituality was positively associated with a global measure of PYD and each of the Five Cs; mentoring was positively linked to global PYD, character, caring, and connection; and critical reflection was positively associated only to youth confidence (Hypothesis 2). These results held even after controlling for the effects of other variables, except critical reflection was also a unique predictor of global PYD (Hypothesis 3). The assets also jointly accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in global PYD scores and the Cs (Hypothesis 4). Youth age moderated the effects of assets on the PYD outcomes (Hypothesis 5); that is, in general, older youth benefitted more from high critical reflection and mentoring relationship quality whereas younger youth benefitted more from high levels of spirituality. Reflecting adaptive individual ← → context developmental regulations (Brandtstädter, 2006), mentoring relationship quality moderated the effect of critical reflection on global PYD, character, and connection (Hypothesis 6). When youth reported low quality mentoring relationships, critical reflection was significantly related to PYD outcomes; that is, higher levels of critical reflection compensated for low mentoring relationship quality.

The results support prevailing models of PYD that both youth strengths and contextual resources are important to youth health and well-being and that it is important to consider youth developmental stage. Consistent with prior research on high-achieving youth (e.g., Antrop-González et al., 2007; Cook, 2000; Flores-González, 2002), spirituality was a significant predictor of global PYD and all Five Cs in this sample. After controlling for the effects of the other predictors, mentoring relationship quality was linked to global PYD and the more prosocial Cs of character, caring, and connection whereas critical reflection was only a unique predictor of global PYD and youth confidence. Although prior research with high-achieving youth indicated that positive-youth adult relationships were linked to academic success (Williams & Bryan, 2013), these relationships were with adults in the school setting. Perhaps as the relationships identified in the present study were with adults in an afterschool setting, youth experienced the benefits of these relationships for less academically-relevant outcomes. The youth in the present study may not need their afterschool mentors’ support for their competence and confidence; however, these relations may promote prosocial outcomes such as personal values and social conscience; sympathy and empathy; and healthy and positive connections.

These differentiated benefits of youth-adult relationships are consistent with RDS theory (Lerner et al., 2015) and contemporary frameworks that model how youth-adult relationships may operate such as “webs of support” (Varga & Zaff, 2018). In this sample of high-achieving youth of color, critical reflection uniquely predicted global PYD and confidence, consistent with prior work on self-esteem (Zimmerman et al., 1999). Linking critical reflection to global PYD and confidence in high-achieving youth of color adds to existing literature that found no associations between critical reflection and the Cs in a sample of Black youth attending Title I schools (Tyler et al., 2019). This finding points to a continued need for future exploration into how critical reflection and related constructs function across diverse youth of color.

To access this article, click here.