Transitioning From Youth To Adolescence In At-risk Youth With Mentorship As An Intervention

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According to Sigmund Freud: “Personality develops through a series of stages. Emotional experiences in childhood have profound effects on a persona as an adult.”

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Adolescence is a developmental stage where a child makes physical and psychological transition into becoming a young adult. It is a period of multiple transitions where the individual prepares for the responsibility of adult life. At this precarious stage, youth struggling with academic, social, and behavioral problems can demonstrate developmental delays. Developmental delays can also be academic difficulties. Developmental delay can be defined as a failure to demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics such as lack of social cohesive behavior, learning problems and constant disengagement from academics resulting in several cycles of school failure, etc. These developmental delays are often experienced by youth coming from a low economic household with troubled domestic setups where they lack positive role models and receive none or very little supervision. They are often victims of abandonment, one parent family, low-income neighborhoods, raised in the foster care system or children of incarcerated parents. Due to unstable domestic conditions, they develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), show poor self-confidence, and experience feelings of inadequacy to meet the day to day challenges. The affected group often start acting out to seek attention from peers as well as teachers at school. Ultimately, these individuals often (but not always) fall prey to substance abuse and become involved in criminal group activities (gang memberships). Schools in low-income neighborhoods are especially equipped (often with the help of federal funding) to identify youth that demonstrates early signs of developmental delays or academic difficulties. Once identified, the school intervenes by engaging the affected youth in special programs which revolves around the concept of Social learning theory. Social Learning Theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences” (Kim et al. 2008, p. 277) For Bandura (1969), individuals experience their environments, yet they have internal self-regulatory processes which helps them self-monitor their reactions to observations or experiences gained from the environment. This self-regulatory process is part of the individual’s cognitive or psychological process. The aim of these programs is to build self-confidence, improve self perception, provide constructive solutions to face domestic challenges, etc.

Social Learning Theory

“Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous dependant inter-communication between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences” (Kim et al. 2008, p. 277). This process further explains why, when people observe or experience a behavior, they sometimes imitate it. Some reflections are the method of delivery of the experience, while other times the acquaintance might be a salient characteristic. Social learning theory emphasizes observational learning which occurs when the individual learns from observing someone else, particularly their behavior. Hence, social learning provides a set role model to support the learner with inputs. Bandura (1977b) discussed the application of four processes of observational learning via modeling which included attentional processes, retention processes, reproduction processes, and motivational processes. This practice of learning suggested that the observer be attentively engaged in order to learn as well as exhibit a level of recall of the observation, such as with retention processes. For at-risk youth engaging in a conversation about college while discussing how it applies to their life would be an example of attentional and retention processes. Further, reproduction would find the observer practicing or reproducing the observation. For at-risk youth who have learned about college might struggle with reproducing their gained knowledge to their life, due to the impact of historical trauma. They may lack role models within their family and community. They need further awareness and knowledge to support them as lack of role models who have graduated high school or attend college. With motivational processes, the observers, such as at-risk youths, could continue to demonstrate the learned behavior if they benefit through rewards or successes, such as getting good grades or earning a diploma from graduating from high school.

Youth Mentoring Program

According to Erickson, like Freud, said, “personality develops through stages. He thought that each stage includes a unique psychological crisis. If that crisis is met in a positive way, the individual develops maturity.” Eric Erikson Statistics state that nine million youth in America, who witness absence of grown-ups, incarceration, poverty, single parent household results in seeking less support in school, high chances of not graduating, difficulties faced in connecting with the community, and often fall prey to low confidence in making the most out of given opportunities. One key recourse for helping youth to avoid these difficulties is building strong connections with non-parental adults. The transition from youth to adolescence, needs effective preventive intervention to reduce emotional and behavioral difficulties. A strong need for opportunities for youth, especially those with limited access to social support within their families and communities need to be addressed by introducing Mentoring programs that give access to non-professional adult volunteers. (Rhodes, [ 40] ) With a mentor in their life, emotional outbursts and behavioral problem among at-risk youth saw a tremendous improvement graph with emotional, social, and behavioral issues. The relationship with the mentor established a bridge to channelize unattended thoughts with proposed approaches or choices instead of a command. Basic commitment asked out of a volunteer mentor is 1) a person who cares, 2) can connect with kids, 3) give them their time and attention. Studies have shown that when youth has witnessed a non parental relationship with an adult, has 1) learnt more, 2) live emotionally healthier and longer lives, 3) likely to avoid negative influences which result as a direct impact in our community.

One such program, working locally in Bakersfield is Reach 4 Greatness (R4G). R4G is a nonprofit organization working strenuously for 20 years to inspire, equip, and mobilize communities through mentoring with the belief that they can improve their quality of life. The program educates, equips, and empowers youth and families with leadership skills and service to the community. R4G works closely with youth in schools (Elementary, Middle and High) and with programs run at office site. These programs focus on youth to recognize and change harmful thought patterns and empowers participants with character education, and life skills. Due to the nature of the program and at respective settings, youth may choose to continue beyond 12-weeks which is mostly the case with programs run at the office site and school mentoring stretches for the entire academic calendar year. The youth is matched with one-on-one mentor.

The most common characteristics of mentees are at-risk youth who are children of all ages, from single-parent families and/or of a minority racial or ethnic group. DuBois et al. (2002) found “the strongest empirical basis exists for utilizing mentoring as a preventive intervention with youth whose backgrounds include significant conditions of environmental risk and disadvantage”. Britner et al. (2006) noted that mentorship programs support the strengths of the child and their environment, like self-worth and self-determination, while attempting to mitigate academic risk factors, like poor school involvement or problems with teachers. Bandura (1977b) proclaimed, “A model who repeatedly demonstrates desired responses, instructs others to reproduce the behavior, prompts them physically when they fail, and then rewards them when they succeed, may eventually produce matching responses in most people”.

Critique

However, this logic could fail when the observer lacks the abilities, forgets what they learned, and/or lack rewards or success (Bandura 1977b). For at-risk youth, environmental factors, such as poverty, limited resources, and lack of adequate role models, could be added to the list of rea- sons for this learning through modeling could fail. One of the primary purposes of mentorship programs is to improve student success in school. Pryce and Keller (2012) produced evidence suggesting school-based mentorships help youth achieve academically, compared to those in the control group. Pryce and Keller (2012) studied 26 mentors and 26 mentees through on-site observation and interviews for over a year. Overall, they found that mentorship supports the youth personally, educationally, socially, and professionally by means ranging from encouraging positive self-worth and providing support with school work to encouraging consideration of educational or career options. DuBois et al. (2002) more directly concluded that mentorship positively affects emotional and behavioral functioning and career development. In a national evaluation of Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs involving 347 youth, Rhodes et al. (2005) asserted that “the more the youth felt that their mentors had not let them down or broken their trust, the more their scholastic competence increased over time”.

Conclusion

A mentorship program is often one of many programs at-risk youth may utilize. “Given the overlapping risks and protocols, in addition to methodological flaws of available research, it is difficult to evaluate ‘what works’ in current approaches to mentoring special youth populations” (Britner et al. 2006, p. 749). Overall, current mentorship program research portrays mentorship programs as a valuable method of supporting youth. However, gaps in program evaluation remain evident. Thus, program developers should focus on ways to address the youth’s confidence and level of motivation via indirect and direct approaches, such as informal conversations and purposeful activities. Additionally, social learning theory suggests that, rather than focusing on personal psychopathology, interventionists can focus on a change-driven, future-focused approach, ranging from changing circumstances in an individual’s life to helping them learn to process reactions to environmental factors. 

10 Jun 2021

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