By Jean Rhodes February 18, 2016
(Continued ) PART TWO:
We all know that mentoring relationships affect different youth in different ways. Even the most caring, consistent mentors may struggle to connect with certain youth, while other matches click from the start. Researchers have found that the quality of adult-youth relationships is conditioned by a wide range of individual, family, and contextual influences, including:
- Relationship Duration
As noted previously, the benefits of mentoring appear to accrue over a relatively long period of time. Evidence for the importance of relationship duration has emerged from the BBBSA studies of CBM and SBM programs cited previously (Grossman & Rhodes, 2002; Herrera et al., 2007). These findings are consistent with other studies, as well as meta-analyses (e.g., DuBois et al. 2011).
- Program Practices
Programs that offer adequate infrastructure increase the likelihood that relationships can endure difficult periods (DuBois et al., 2002; Rhodes, 2002). In fact, program practices that support the mentor and relationship (i.e., training for mentors, offering structured activities for mentors and youth, having high expectations for frequency of contact, and monitoring of overall program implementation) produce stronger positive effects.
These practices, which speak to a program’s ability to not only match mentors and youths but also sustain those matches, converge with the beneficial practices identified by other researchers. Unfortunately, moving youths off long wait lists can sometimes take priority over creating high-quality matches.
Even among the growing number of programs with careful recruitment, screening, and matching, a relatively smaller proportion devote themselves to in-depth training of volunteers or ongoing support to the mentors.
Cost, combined with a general reluctance to make demands on volunteers, is the primary obstacle to providing more sustained involvement and infrastructure beyond the initial match.
- Family Context
The likelihood of a child’s or adolescent’s forming strong ties with mentors may be affected by a range of processes in the family, including the encouragement and opportunities that parents provide for the development of such ties. Families characterized by sensitivity to others’ ideas and needs and open expression of views are more likely to encourage adolescents to become involved in positive relationships outside the family (Cooper, Grotevant, & Condon, 1983).
With specific relevance to mentoring, children and adolescents with more supportive parental relationships and higher levels of shared family decision making have been found to be more likely to report natural mentors.
Parents who actively cultivate connections and channel their children to community-based recreational and social programs also may increase the likelihood that their children will form beneficial relationships with adults beyond the nuclear family .
Mentoring programs that reach out to parents tend to have greater success in shaping youth outcomes. Other family-related factors, including stability and mobility, can facilitate or hinder the establishment and maintenance of strong ties.
- Neighborhood Ecology
Researchers have observed that extracurricular activities and supportive relationships with adults tend to be more beneficial to adolescents raised in urban poverty than to lower risk youths, who encounter more supportive adults in their everyday lives. Indeed, neighborhood characteristics and norms (i.e., neighborhood effects) can influence the availability of caring, informal adult ties as well as the willingness of volunteers to genuinely connect with children and adolescents.
Changing family and marital patterns, crowded schools, and less cohesive communities have dramatically reduced the availability of caring adults in the lives of youths (Putnam, 2000).Even when they are available, however, fewer American adults are willing to offer support and guidance to unrelated youths. Parents have come to be considered solely responsible for their children, so the involvement of other adults is often met with suspicion and discomfort (Scales, 2003).
Indeed, words like clergy, uncles, and even neighbors no longer simply conjure images of front-porch warmth and goodwill; they also evoke parental anxiety and confusion about the boundaries of trust and safety. Similarly, as mentoring programs increasingly accommodate volunteers’ busy schedules, they have eased requirements for relationship commitment and intensity.
The result in some cases has been the formation of perfunctory ties that resemble, but share little in common with, the long-term community-based relationships from which they have evolved .
In essence, changing family and neighborhood configurations, busy schedules, and shifting norms regarding adult involvement in the lives of youths have limited the likelihood that youths will engage in the sorts of caring relationships with mentors that can lead to developmental change.