Campus News

Researchers find informal mentoring relationships help African-American youth experiencing hardship

In a time of transition for rural African-American young adults, natural mentors in the community help them stay focused on their goals and avoid potential difficulties associated with emerging adulthood, according to findings from an ongoing UGA study.

The study, published in the early online edition of the American Journal of Community Psychology, is part of a broader research program called the Adults in the Making project that is aimed at helping rural African Americans transition to adulthood. The researchers found that behaviors such as anger, breaking the law and substance abuse were reduced when informal mentors provided support and helped them learn to deal with adult problems. These relationships were even more powerful for young adults experiencing hardship.

“If the youths had some bad things going on in their lives, including being treated badly through discrimination or different family stressors, it was particularly helpful for them to have a good relationship with a mentor,” said Steve Kogan, assistant professor of child and family development in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Kogan and his colleagues studied 345 African Americans starting when they were age 17 to 18 and measured how they progressed over the following year and a half by interviewing them, their mentors and their parents.

The eight Georgia counties in which the young adults in the mentoring program lived-Baldwin, Butts, Elbert, Hancock, Morgan, Putnam, Twiggs and Wilkes-are among the highest in the nation in poverty rates, with high unemployment rates.

The study sought to better understand why some young adults succeed despite tough circumstances after high school.

“If you have someone special outside of your family that helps you set goals and maintain self-control, you can compensate for difficulties in your own life,” Kogan said.