Pathways from Parenting to Natural Mentoring Among Black Adolescents: A Mixed Methods Inquiry

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Charity-Parker, Bianka, Clinical Psychology - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Hurd, Noelle, Psychology, University of Virginia
Downer, Jason, School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia

Given the emphasis placed on the role of the extended family and fictive kin in shared child-rearing within the African American community, it is not surprising that extended family members and fictive kin are the most common source of natural mentors reported by Black adolescents although close connections with non-fictive kin like teachers, coaches, and neighbors may also be well-suited as natural mentors for youth. However, anywhere from a fourth to a third of Black youth may be lacking these supportive ties. Although a wealth of research suggests that natural mentors contribute greatly to the healthy development of marginalized youth little is known about the factors that may directly or indirectly influence whether youth develop natural mentoring relationships. Previous research indicates that the best predictor of individuals’ success in the pursuit of other important relationships throughout the lifespan may be the quality of their relationships with primary caregivers. Even though individuals’ representations of attachment relationships may modify with each new non-parental relationship they develop throughout their lives, youths’ foundational understanding of self and others is typically based in their initial parental attachment bond. Nevertheless, among Black adolescents, limited work has explored how specific aspects of parenting may influence their capacity to pursue and maintain trusting and healthy interpersonal bonds with caring non-parental adults; namely, studies that examine mechanisms and factors that connect parenting to the formation of natural mentoring relationships among Black adolescents are lacking. This dissertation strived to pinpoint pathways through which parents may exert an influence on the formation of natural mentoring relationships among Black adolescents through two explanatory mixed-method design studies. Both studies employed survey data from 216 Black youth and qualitative interviews from a subsample of 25 youth, their primary caregivers, and one non-parental adult in their lives with whom the youth reported feeling close. Quantitative results of the first study suggested that the quality of parent-adolescent attachment is positively linked to Black adolescents’ quantity of natural mentoring relationships via their attitudes towards adults as helpful. Qualitatively, I was positioned to document aspects of strong parental attachment among Black dyads and better understand the ways in which parental attachment informs Black adolescents’ attitudes towards adults. Quantitative results of the second study suggested that Black adolescents’ confidence is an explanatory link in the association between autonomy supportive parenting practices among primary caregivers and Black adolescents’ quantity of natural mentoring relationships. Qualitatively, results showed that a range of autonomy supportive parenting practices may be associated with youth confidence and that Black adolescents’ confidence levels might inform how they engage with adults. Altogether, my dissertation was a step to better understand aspects of healthy development among Black youth and Black parent-adolescent relationships as it sought to extent what is known about how parental attachment bonds as well as parenting practices can inform youths’ formation of relationships with supportive and caring non-parental adults. Findings of this work have implications for how psychologists, other practitioners, and policymakers might use strengths-based approaches to effectively support Black youth and families.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Black adolescents, Black families, Natural mentoring, attachment, autonomy, parenting
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