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Family Closeness and Mentor Formation among Black Youth


The current study examined how primary caregivers’ close relationships with adult relatives may have influenced their adolescent children’s formation of familial mentoring relationships. Using survey data from 216 Black American youth (59% girls), quantitative findings indicated that when primary caregivers had more really close relationships with adult relatives, their children also reported more really close relationships with adult relatives. In turn, having more really close relationships with adult kin was associated with youth having a familial mentor. Interviews were conducted with a subsample of 24 youth, along with their primary caregiver, and an additional adult family member (72 interviews in total). Qualitative analyses were conducted to better understand how primary caregivers may facilitate relationships between their children and adult relatives. Qualitative findings indicated that primary caregivers both directly and indirectly facilitated these relationships by modeling relational closeness and permitting interactions among their children and adult relatives. Importantly, qualitative findings also highlighted the role of youth agency in creating and maintaining close intergenerational bonds. Overall, findings suggest that primary caregivers may play an influential role in shaping the nature of their children’s relationships with adult relatives. Moreover, findings suggest that youth who lack close ties with adult relatives may benefit from intentional efforts by their primary caregivers to facilitate these relationships.


  • Primary caregivers’ closeness with adult relatives may indirectly influence Black adolescents’ familial mentor formation.

  • Size and strength of primary caregivers’ and adolescents’ close ties with adult relatives may promote familial mentor presence.

  • Primary caregivers directly and indirectly facilitate close bonds among their children and adult relatives.

  • Youth agency also may facilitate close intergenerational family relationships.

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  1. In this study, “Black” as a descriptor refers to persons living in the U.S. who identify as Black/African American across the African diaspora.

  2. LINK is a mixed-method study focused on better understanding the role of Black adolescents’ social contexts (e.g., family, school, community) in the formation of natural mentoring relationships.

  3. The Big Five Inventory (BFI) is a questionnaire designed to measure five broad, empirically defined domains of personality including extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.


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We would like to thank the youth and families for participating in this study and the members of the research team who assisted with data collection.


This study was funded by a William T. Grant Foundation Scholar Award (grant number 182884) that was awarded to the third author.

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Correspondence to Janelle T. Billingsley.

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All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Virginia Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Billingsley, J.T., Rivens, A.J. & Hurd, N.M. Family Closeness and Mentor Formation among Black Youth. J Child Fam Stud 30, 793–807 (2021).

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