Despite challenging circumstances, such as poverty, it has been recognized that some young adults are able to make a successful life for themselves after high school. They are able to avoid the problems that can arise from their economic status or social position like delinquency or unemployment. Researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that youth-mentor relationships play a crucial role in this phenomenon. Mentors, especially those within the community, help youths stay focused on their goals and avoid the potential difficulties associated with the transition into adulthood.
The Adults in the Making Project is a program that is aimed at helping rural African-American youths transition to adulthood. They conducted a study to explore the effectiveness of youth mentorship. It consisted of 345 African-American participants ages 17-18. It measured their progress over the course of a year and a half through interviews with the youths themselves, their mentors, and their parents. The study was conducted within eight counties in Georgia that are among the highest in the nation in poverty rates— Baldwin, Butts, Elbert, Hancock, Morgan, Putnam, Twiggs and Wilkes. Unemployment rates there are also above the national average.
The youths were not assigned mentors, but were allowed to choose a mentor from the community. However, the mentor could not be an immediate family member or live in the youth’s home, and he or she had to be at least 5 years older. In several mentorship programs throughout the country, the mentor is typically unfamiliar to the youth and comes from outside sources. One of the things that the Adults in the Making Project kept in mind was that a mentor does not have to be a stranger. They wanted the youths to really look at the people within their community and see how they could potentially help them better themselves. The mentors would already know a little about the youths and have an investment in them.
This study exposed that aggressive and delinquent behaviors and substance abuse was reduced when the youths had a mentor to provide them support and help them deal with their problems. This correlation was even stronger for those who were experiencing hardships in their everyday lives. Steven Kogan, one of the researchers stated that, “If the youths had some bad things going on in their life, including being treated badly through discrimination or different family stressors, it was particularly helpful for them to have a good relationship with a mentor.”
Young people do not always have people in their lives to turn to for help or support for a number of reasons. A good parental figure is one of the most important factors for positive youth development and unfortunately a number of people grow up without one. This lack of guidance sets the stage for youth disconnection and a number of other problems. Therefore, having somebody outside the family to help one set goals and maintain self-control is a huge compensation for the lack of parental guidance. Kogan says, “The better the youth-mentor relationship was, the less likely the young adults were to be acting out, breaking rules or being aggressive when they were 19 or 20.” Mentorship is a great tool for young people to possess especially when they are experiencing hardships in their lives.
by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
B.A. Applied Psychology