Date of Award:

5-2009

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Advisor/Chair:

Troy E Beckert

Abstract

Adolescent risk-taking behaviors, both negative and positive, continue to be a point of interest for researchers and of concern for society. Negative risk-taking behaviors threaten healthy adolescent development and may have deleterious effects on the remainder of the adolescent's life. Positive risk-taking behaviors promote healthy development and can aid in pro-social outcomes. Mentoring has been an established means of assisting adolescents through this sometimes difficult stage of life. Researchers have identified those elements which tend to make the greatest impact in mentoring programs. Among those known elements are adults who are found in "naturally" occurring settings. Teachers in schools, religious leaders in church, coaches from athletic teams, rather than programmed or structured mentoring organizations, are most effective at having a lasting impact on adolescent risk-taking behaviors. This study examined grandparents as potential adolescent mentors who could be utilized to make significant and important differences in adolescent risk-taking behaviors. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), this study compared adolescents who self-reported not having any adult mentors in their life against adolescents who self-reported having a grandparent mentor in their life on various negative (i.e., sexual attitudes and behaviors, cigarette, marijuana, and alcohol use) and positive (i.e., popularity and educational issues) risk-taking behaviors. Differences between male and female adolescents were also explored as well as differences observed when looking at maternal and paternal grandparents. Results indicated that overall, adolescents with a grandparent mentor had better mean scores on risk-taking outcomes than adolescents without any mentors. Several differences were observed between males and females when comparing those without mentors to those with a grandparent. Few differences were observed in outcomes between males and females when comparing maternal and paternal grandparents. Discussion addressed results, theoretical implications, study limitations, and directions for future research related to grandparents as mentors of adolescents.

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