Mentoring Marginality

Mentoring Marginality

Adolescence is a turning point in the development of any individual. The desire to prove the own independence and adulthood, as well as youthful maximalism pushes a teenager towards the deviant behavior, including a criminal activity, which often ends in the incarceration. The problem of juvenile delinquency is one of the most relevant ones in the contemporary society, namely because of its rapid growth. The causes of delinquent behavior lie in the psychological features of a teen, who wishes to feel the significance and value. Thus, in case he or she is not successful in sports, school, and relationships with peers or is growing in a dysfunctional family, there is an increased chance of meeting with the street life. Therefore, there it is possible to find the company of similar people. In such environment, there is a reign of a distinctive psychology based on the specific laws and role models causing juvenile delinquency. The role of such mentors in the development of some negative behavioral patterns has been studied by many scholars, including Sykes, Gioviano, and Piquero. Therefore, the following review focuses on their article “Mentoring Marginality: The Role of Informal Mentors in the Lives of Socially Disadvantaged Adolescents”, which is dedicated to the problem of mentorship for the adolescents living in unfavorable social conditions.

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The core idea of the reviewed work is a positive role of education in a process of the development of an individual, especially from the point of prevention of contacts with a criminal justice system. In particular, such factors as living conditions and the incarceration of relatives of a person have an impact on its emotional, behavioral, and educational development. It is particularly significant for children and adolescents. Moreover, the people with social disadvantages often become isolated from the rest of society, thus losing the contact with individuals that may become the positive role models for them. As a result, stratification between different classes deepens. In order to address this issue, the authors have resorted to the use of relevant data gathered on the national scale for the assessment of differences in the so-called role modeling (i.e. informal mentorship) among youths while taking into account the race of test subjects. In particular, they have studied the effects of this phenomenon on the self-control of young people from dysfunctional and disadvantaged families (Sykes, Gioviano & Piquero, 2014), including those with the members having a criminal record.

The article opens with the statistics related to the incarceration in the US. The authors point out the leading place of the country on the global scale with regard to the number of people that contact with the criminal justice system. In particular, according to them, there are more than 2.23 million Americans being incarcerated (about 1% of the adult population) with at least five million of people being supervised by the community (Sykes et al., 2014). Moreover, they claim that the risk of spending time behind bars is in a direct connection with social disadvantages of a person or a group. It is especially true for the racial minorities in the country, namely the African Americans, the share of which among the inmates of all ages is the highest one. Given the fact that such people are dispersed across the US, it is possible to say the following thing. The problem is presented as something that can be encountered by any citizen either in an direct or indirect way. Such introduction provides for the development of the sense of urgency in a reader, which contributes to the relevance of the material.

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Prior to introducing the core part of their article,  the research that analyses the connection between the mentoring and development of criminal behavior in adolescents, the authors review the scholarly works and studies. Such researches are dedicated to the problems of self-control in teenagers, as well as the connection between them and their social disadvantage and parental incarceration. In particular, it is pointed out that the listed issues have been studied since the beginning of the 1990s (Sykes et al., 2014). It demonstrates the presence of a significant scientific background. As a result, the authors had a solid basis to build their study upon, contributing to its objectivity of the research, as well as its relevance.

The data gathering methods implemented in the course of work are relatively scarce, with the survey being the primary way of obtaining the necessary information. However, it should be noted that the scientists have tried to mitigate the negative effects of such interviewing. It can be perceived not only as a sign of professionalism but also the intention to create a basis for the similar studies of the problem of high incarceration rate among the representatives of racial minorities. The survey has been based on the uniform list of both demographic and health questions the youth had to answer. At the same time, there were the adjustments depending on the interviewees’ stage of development, i.e. age (Sykes et al., 2014). The parents also participated in the research, providing the information on the situation in the family and community. As a result, one can say that the gathered data were rather comprehensive. It has allowed creating psychological portraits of adolescents in connection with their surroundings. This fact contributes to the scientific value of the article. In the end, the research team has interviewed over 95,000 of the youth from all states of the country.

At the same time, it is possible to note that the survey conducted by them can be characterized as a standardized interview. The amount of questions, their sequence, and wording has been pre-defined, i.e. they were the same for all respondents. The advantage of this method is undeniable, namely due to the minimization of the possibility of errors in the process of formulating questions. It makes the obtained data more comparable. However, the disadvantage of this method is a more formal nature of the survey, which hinders the contact between an interviewer and an interviewee (Seidman, 2013). This issue becomes especially relevant against the background of adolescents being the primary target of the research, as well as one of the sources of information. One of the most characteristic features of young people is the unique and unstable nature of their relationships with others. After all, at this age, a person gets rid of childish habits, stops depending on adults, and begins to get used to understanding the world on the basis of trust and respect. It is not easy to cope with such task. It makes many teenagers aggressive, provocative, and even immoral (Siegel & Welsh, 2015). Thus, one can assume that the formalized nature of the survey could have resulted in the interviewees giving dishonest answers due to the lack of trust between them and the interviewers. In turn, the findings may not reflect the objective truth.

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However, despite this potential flaw, the article by Sykes, Gioviano, and Piquero has made a contribution to both psychology and criminology. The authors have used the relevant scholarly works to create scales making it possible to measure self-control and academic engagement of the particular individual. In particular, their approach to the creation of a uniform self-control indicator is based on blending of situational measures being based on seven factors. Such one are reflecting the relationship between a young person and the surrounding. Naturally, one may assume that the work with a wide array of indicators may be rather difficult, which may increase the probability of mistakes and errors. As a result, the authors have combined them into a single index. It captures the predictability of self-control, as well as its external manifestations. It should be noted that such concept is not new, as claimed by Sykes et al. There have been the attempts to self-control factors before (Sykes et al., 2014). In turn, the approach utilized by the authors is consistent with the previous scholarly works on the topic, thus contributing to the relevance and value of the article. Additionally, Sykes, Gioviano, and Piquero have managed to develop the index of academic engagement reflecting the degree of one’s attachment to school, college or university, as well as the scales of community bonds, social institutions, and neighborhood disorder (Sykes et al., 2014). The latter one are being used as controls.

The primary finding of the research is the fact that there is a direct connection between the role models (i.e. informal mentors) and the self-control, i.e. the possibility of incarceration, among adolescents. The application of the score-matching method has allowed indicating racial differences in the likelihood of having an informal mentor. Moreover, the effect from such relationship was different for various social groups. In particular, the non-white youth, especially the ones that had had no criminal records in their family, demonstrated an increase in self-control as a result of mentoring. However, the situation was the opposite one for the representatives of the Latino population with incarcerated parents. At the same time, the positive role models did not have any effect measurable for the academic engagement of all groups of adolescents (Sykes et al., 2014). It should be noted that the findings of the research are presented both in the textual and graphic forms, which makes the work easier to comprehend. At the same time, the academic style of the article allows deducing that it is primarily addressed to professionals, namely psychologists and criminologists. In one’s opinion, this fact results in the most significant shortcoming of the reviewed article. On the one hand, it points out the importance of informal mentoring, i.e. such one carried out by common people rather than professional teachers. However, the academic writing prevents it from being accessible to such individuals, meaning that its usefulness is somewhat limited.

Thus, in the course of their work, the authors have managed to point out the so-called bottlenecks in the American society. These ones are identifying the places that require attention not only on the part of the governmental and social institution but also those ones that may act as role models to the disadvantaged youth. It had been thought for a long time that parents were the best role models for teens. In particular, this idea is confirmed by the results of the recent studies. It has been found that without parents as positive role models about 67% of teens are more likely to remain unemployed when compared with their peers having such mentors (Siegel & Welsh, 2015). In addition, they remain out of work longer than others. Young people without role models are also more likely to use drugs. Girls without mentorship from the side of their mothers may become overly addicted to alcohol. Moreover, in case a teenager has no role template among the parents, he or she experiences suicidal thoughts more often. In total, over the third of young people admitted that at some point in their lives, they were thinking about a suicide. Finally, such adolescents are twice as likely to commit crimes (Siegel & Welsh, 2015), which may also be connected to the higher unemployment rate in their social environment.

At the same time, when growing up, a child must undergo a stage of socialization.  It means the detachment from the authority of parents, as well as the entrance to wider social circles outside the family with the subsequent search for a mentor. In case such scenario does not occur, the development of a person becomes hindered. However, it is difficult to imagine that such mentors can be found in the ranks of the target audience of the reviewed article. Indeed, the informal mentorship is associated with the people from the social environment of the particular person, with psychologists and criminologists being the unlikely representatives of the neighborhood of disadvantaged youth.


The work “Mentoring Marginality: The Role of Informal Mentors in the Lives of Socially Disadvantaged Adolescents” by Sykes, Gioviano, and Piquero is particularly relevant in the current age of incarceration. Its importance lies in the fact that it studies the adolescents, whose minds and systems of values are yet to be formed completely. It makes them susceptible to a wide array of negative influences. Despite several shortcomings of the reviewed article described above, its value is undeniable, especially against the background of the rampant juvenile delinquency. As a result, it may serve as a source of motivation, but only for those ones engaged in the field of education and psychology. As it has been mentioned before, the language of the article is highly scientific, with the abundance of professional terms, making it rather difficult to comprehend for  common people. However, it may inspire the other similar studies, which may provide a better understanding of the problem of criminal behavior among the youth, including the representatives of racial minorities. In turn, it will be possible to use the findings to address them in a long-term perspective.

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