You don’t need to be a parent to build meaningful relationships with kids



children of all ages benefit from community ties with adults who aren’t in their immediate families, historian Stephanie Coontz has said. Coontz added that childrearing has been a much more communal project than it is in many societies today. Birth control, abortion, and options for independent adult living mean that parenthood is not simply the default choice, she added. Throughout human history, childrearing has been a much more communal project than it is in many societies today, she added.




Kids of all ages benefit from community ties with adults who aren’t in their immediate families. What could that look like in practice? On any given weeknight in the early 1990s, Athena Palmer’s house was full of people. A mining accident had upended Palmer’s family, grievously injuring her dad and spurring her mother to attend dental school. This required moving the whole family away from their small Appalachian hometown to Lexington, Kentucky. But it was her mother’s decades-younger classmates who really made an impression. Palmer was young and homesick, and her older sister was a struggling teen. Encouraged by Palmer’s mother, the dental students started coming over to score a free meal and study. They kept showing up for the food and the camaraderie, and later to support Palmer herself. The effects of this period of extended community would reverberate for the next 30 years. “In this moment, she collected these people,” Palmer says of her mother, “and the gift it gave me was I didn’t go through this really dark period alone.” Supportive relationships are vital for everyone. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” acknowledges that parents can’t do it by themselves, but “it doesn’t necessarily acknowledge how much kids need the village,” says historian Stephanie Coontz.

あらゆる年齢の子供たちは、近親者とはいない大人とのコミュニティのつながりの恩恵を受けています。それは実際にはどのように見えますか? 1990年代初頭の平日の夜、アテナパーマーの家は人でいっぱいでした。鉱業事故により、パーマーの家族が乱れ、父親をひどく負傷させ、母親が歯科学校に通うように拍車をかけました。これには、家族全員を小さなアパラチアの故郷からケンタッキー州レキシントンに移動させる必要がありました。しかし、本当に印象を与えたのは母親の数十年のクラスメートでした。パーマーは若くてホームシックで、彼女の姉は苦労している10代でした。パーマーの母親に励まされて、歯科学生は無料の食事と勉強を獲得するために来ました。彼らは食べ物と友情のために現れ続け、後にパーマー自身をサポートするために現れました。拡張されたコミュニティのこの期間の影響は、今後30年間にわたって反響するでしょう。 「この瞬間、彼女はこれらの人々を集めました」とパーマーは母親について言います。協力的な関係は誰にとっても不可欠です。 「子供を育てるには村が必要です」ということは、親が自分でそれをすることはできないことを認めていますが、「子供が村を必要とする量を必ずしも認めているわけではありません」と歴史家のステファニー・クーンツは言います。

Coontz, author of the forthcoming book For Better and Worse: The Problematic Past and Uncertain Future of Marriage, has spent her career studying marriage, family, and gender roles. Throughout human history, childrearing has been a much more communal project than it is in many societies today, she says. Not only did this make life easier for caregivers, it also conferred benefits to the children themselves. The United States’ fertility rate is at an all-time low. Birth control, abortion, and options for independent adult living mean that parenthood is not simply the default choice. As individual families are smaller, there’s less opportunity for mixing across ages and generations. This can create a skills gap — many parents have never taken care of a baby before they have their own. It also isolates nearly everyone. Nuclear families feel pressure to handle everything “in house,” and folks without children are often cut off from the natural community networks that form through kids, like schools. In making parenthood optional, we have also accidentally implied that children themselves are some kind of aspirational hobby, rather than the fundamental mechanism of society’s continuation, which everyone has a stake in.


America is overdue for a correction on this issue from the top — investing in child care and early childhood education — to the bottom: treating kids as members of the communities in which they live and showing up for them. Showing up for kids can happen in informal care networks, formal mentoring relationships, and even advocacy, and they’re all important. Research has shown that being a mentor to a young person is valuable not only for the youth but also for the mentor themselves. Intentionally cultivating these relationships has the potential to distribute domestic labor across a wider group of people in a way that relieves stress on primary caregivers and is deeply beneficial for young people.

アメリカは、育児や幼児教育への投資 – 最下位へのこの問題の修正のために延期されています。子供たちを彼らが住んでいるコミュニティのメンバーとして扱い、彼らのために現れます。子供のために現れることは、非公式のケアネットワーク、正式なメンタリング関係、さらにはアドボカシーさえも起こり、それらはすべて重要です。調査によると、若者のメンターであることは、若者だけでなく、メンター自身にとっても貴重であることが示されています。意図的にこれらの関係を培うことは、より多くの人々のグループに国内労働を分配する可能性があり、プライマリ介護者へのストレスを軽減し、若者にとって深く有益です。

Researchers have recognized how important it is for people to have a sense of meaning in their lives. Being a real member of a community, counting on other people and having them count on you, helps fulfill this important psychological need. Jason, who asked to be identified only by his first name to protect his mentee’s privacy, became a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2019 after he moved to a new town. He says that his relationship with his mentee has integrated him into his new community more fully than he expects would have happened otherwise. His relationship with his mentee (his “Little,” in the organization’s parlance) has been a source of value for him, even as it’s been challenging.


“I really feel like I have played a role in his life that’s been positive. He’s been a positive influence on my life,” Jason says. “Honestly, he just brings me a lot of joy.” A diverse set of relationships also builds practical skills, says Coontz. In earlier eras, when there was little separation between home and the marketplace, running errands, taking on household tasks, and interacting with adults were all opportunities for young people to practice the skills that would be needed in adulthood, Coontz says. Far from feeling guilty about working with their children this way, parents in these earlier times would have seen themselves helping educate their children in important skills. Embedding young people in a web of relationships, including with unrelated adults, continues to have benefits today, Coontz continues. “Firstly, they begin to know that people have different problem-solving skills — they have different weaknesses, they have different strengths,” she says.

「私は彼の人生で前向きな役割を果たしたと本当に感じています。彼は私の人生にプラスの影響を与えています」とジェイソンは言います。 「正直なところ、彼は私に多くの喜びをもたらします。」多様な関係のセットも実践的なスキルを構築します、とCoontzは言います。初期の時代には、家と市場の間にほとんど分離されていなかったとき、用事、家庭の仕事をし、大人との交流は、若者が成人期に必要なスキルを実践する機会がすべて機会を得ることができました、とCoontzは言います。このように子供と一緒に仕事をすることに罪悪感を感じることとはほど遠く、これらの以前の両親は、自分自身が重要なスキルで子供を教育するのを手伝っているのを見ていたでしょう。無関係な大人を含む関係の網に若者を埋め込むことは、今日も利益をもたらし続けている、とクーン​​ツは続けている。 「第一に、彼らは人々が異なる問題解決スキルを持っていることを知り始めました。彼らは異なる弱点を持ち、彼らは異なる強みを持っています」と彼女は言います。

Second, she says, adolescents trust the feedback they get from other adults more than feedback from their primary caregivers.


Finally, they’re much more motivated to live up to other people’s expectations when completing a task, Coontz says. Many caregivers will recognize this dynamic at play when kids strive not to disappoint favorite teachers or coaches. A range of relationships ensures that young people can be on both the giving and receiving end of advice, knowledge, and expertise. Meaningful relationships can form with paid caregivers, including teachers, babysitters, and after-school and camp counselors. Part of the benefit of these relationships is the problem-solving they incentivize, so parents should hold back from micromanaging when there are conflicts. “Try to help the child strategize, rather than to step in on the child’s behalf,” Coontz says. One of Palmer’s most enduring mentors was Cathy, another of her mom’s classmates and very engaged in local cheerleading. “I was 5 and 6 and needed some sort of outlet,” Palmer remembers. “She eventually became the coach of a cheerleading squad and required me to be on it,” Palmer says. It’s not necessarily what Palmer would have chosen for herself at that age, but she was out of the house and enjoying herself. Later, when Palmer’s mother became a practicing dentist and the family moved to wealthy Franklin, Tennessee, cheerleading was how Palmer made inroads in her new community. “I was like, ‘Oh, thank god I have this thing that I would never have joined otherwise,’” Palmer says. Coontz said that she and her friends regularly hired each other’s children for small jobs, which was easier than paying or nagging their own. Caregivers are often in a position to informally mentor their children’s friends — when carpooling, on play dates, or at social gatherings.

最後に、彼らはタスクを完了する際に他の人の期待に応えるためにはるかに動機付けられている、とクーン​​ツは言う。多くの介護者は、子供たちがお気に入りの教師やコーチを失望させないように努力するとき、このダイナミックなプレイで認識するでしょう。さまざまな関係により、若者はアドバイス、知識、専門知識の献身と受信の両方に存在することが保証されます。意味のある関係は、教師、ベビーシッター、放課後およびキャンプカウンセラーなど、有料の介護者と結成することができます。これらの関係の利点の一部は、彼らが奨励する問題解決です。そのため、親は紛争がある場合にマイクロ管理を妨げなければなりません。 「子供に代わって介入するのではなく、子供が戦略を立てるのを支援してみてください」とクーンツは言います。パーマーの最も永続的なメンターの1人はキャシーで、母親のクラスメートのもう1人で、地元のチアリーディングに非常に従事しています。 「私は5歳と6歳で、ある種のアウトレットが必要でした」とパーマーは思い出します。 「彼女は最終的にチアリーディングチームのコーチになり、私がそれに参加することを要求しました」とパーマーは言います。必ずしもパーマーがその年齢で自分のために選んだものではありませんが、彼女は家の外に出て、自分自身を楽しんでいました。その後、パーマーの母親が練習の歯科医になり、家族がテネシー州の裕福なフランクリンに移り、チアリーディングはパーマーが彼女の新しいコミュニティでどのように侵入したかでした。 「私は、「ああ、そうでなければ参加しなかったこのことを持っていることを神に感謝します」とパーマーは言います。クーンツは、彼女と彼女の友人が定期的にお互いの子供を小さな仕事のために雇ったと言いました。介護者は、多くの場合、非公式に子供たちの友人を指導する立場にあります – プレーデートで、または社交の集まりで、カープーリング、またはソーシャルの集まりです。

Mentorship of any kind is often a mechanism for getting exposed to new experiences, says Artis Stevens, the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Organizations like BBBS, Mentor, and Friends of the Children systematize that pipeline and make it accessible to more people, though the particulars vary from one organization to another.

あらゆる種類のメンターシップは、多くの場合、新しい経験にさらされるメカニズムであると、Big Brothers Big Sistersの社長兼CEOであるArtis Stevens氏は言います。BBBS、メンター、子供の友人などの組織は、そのパイプラインを体系化し、より多くの人々がアクセスできるようにしますが、詳細は組織ごとに異なります。

Stevens says his goal is for “any positive contributing adult who wants to get engaged, wants to be supportive, has a way to be able to get engaged and become a positive mentor in a young person’s life.” While most Littles are from communities of color, most Bigs, or mentors, are white, he says. Stevens sees this as a valuable source of allyship in a time that sorely needs it. For LGBTQ+ young people, mentorship can be a lifeline. “When there are people in your own community living their lives, it makes it so much easier to envision yourself with a real future,” says Teri Blauersouth, a licensed professional clinical counselor who regularly works with LGBTQ+ clients. “Even youth with ultimately supportive family often have a period of wondering, if they are honest about who they are, if that support will be there,” they say.

スティーブンスは、彼の目標は、「婚約したい、協力的になりたい、若い人の人生で積極的になり、前向きな指導者になることができる方法がある」ということを目標にしていると言います。ほとんどの人は色のコミュニティから来ていますが、ほとんどのビッグ、またはメンターは白人です、と彼は言います。スティーブンスは、これを非常に必要とする時代に貴重な同盟の源と見なしています。LGBTQ+の若者にとって、メンターシップはライフラインになる可能性があります。「あなた自身のコミュニティに人生を生きている人々がいるとき、それは本当の未来を身につけて自分自身を想像するのが非常に簡単になります」と、LGBTQ+クライアントと定期的に働いている認可された専門的な臨床カウンセラーであるTeri Blauersouth氏は言います。「最終的に支援的な家族を持つ若者でさえ、彼らが誰であるかについて正直であるかどうか、そのサポートがそこにあるかどうか、疑問に思う期間がしばしばあります」と彼らは言います。

Mentors can reassure young people that “there are trustworthy, caring adults in the world,” Blauersouth says, ultimately improving their relationships with supportive primary caregivers. In extreme cases, they continued, mentors can offer “material refuge” to youth whose caregivers stop supporting them. Palmer, who is bisexual, remembers how reassuring it was when, as a child starting to have feelings for other girls, she saw a family friend, Becky, and her girlfriend, warmly and casually included in gatherings. Not only did she see a same-sex relationship modeled by a trusted adult, she saw her parents accept that relationship.


“I didn’t come out when I was 7, but it was still wonderful,” Palmer recalls. “When I did come out, I don’t think I ever questioned that my parents were going to be an issue on that front.” Though the benefits are clear for kids and caregivers, there are obstacles to creating these relationships. They require time, sometimes money, and they’re hard. “It is a very, very rewarding experience, and a lot of people should really consider it,” says Jason. “But it is difficult. It does take a level of responsibility and maturity and thoughtfulness.” It also bears noting that many people are afraid of children being harmed by adults who were supposed to be helping them. Even Palmer, the beneficiary of these types of relationships, says she’d be hesitant to form them with a young person now. The sanctity of the nuclear family feels too hard to breach.


“You know, I feel like we’ve been taught explicitly, especially middle-class millennials, to, like, protect your kid from adults that aren’t you,” Palmer says.


“We don’t need to let those concerns rob our children of the potential benefits of these relationships,” says Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University and president of the board of the Council on Contemporary Families.


Primary caregivers and parents should think of being present and involved with their kids’ lives as a safety precaution, says Schoppe-Sullivan. Introduce yourself to coaches and get to know the adults who will be spending time with them. “It’s important from an early age with your children to develop a close, trusting relationship,” Schoppe-Sullivan says. The goal is that “they feel comfortable talking to you and that you’re not going to judge them for what they say.” These lines of communication allow for children to tell their parents if another person is making them uncomfortable and to know that those concerns will be taken seriously.


Formal mentoring programs offer institutional assurance for families and adults who want a straightforward option with a proven track record of safety and efficacy. Parents are the number one way young people come into BBBS, says Stevens, and they trust the organization because of its decades-long track record of looking out for young people. Volunteers go through training before they’re matched with a Little. There’s support staff that both Bigs and Littles can turn to for advice or help, and regular communication with families. Stevens says would-be volunteers are held back by thinking they need to be perfect role models. But that’s not what kids — or anyone, really — needs. “What we ask is for you to be present,” he says. “That’s what kids want: presence, and persistence.” That persistence pays dividends. When Palmer got married, decades after their initial meeting, Cathy did her hair and hosted her bridesmaids. “There were just all of these ways that they’ve changed our family’s life,” she says of her extended community, “let alone mine.” Alex Hazlett is a freelance journalist who covers modern family life, technology, and science.

正式なメンタリングプログラムは、安全性と有効性の実績を備えた簡単なオプションを望む家族や大人に制度的保証を提供します。両親は若者がBBBSに来る一番の方法であるとスティーブンスは言います、そして、彼らは若者を探している数十年にわたる実績のために組織を信頼しています。ボランティアは、少しマッチする前にトレーニングを受けます。 BigsとLitlesの両方がアドバイスや助けを求めて、家族との定期的なコミュニケーションを求めることができるサポートスタッフがいます。スティーブンスは、完璧なロールモデルである必要があると考えることで、ボランティアになりたいと言います。しかし、それは子供たち、または誰もが本当に必要とするものではありません。 「私たちが尋ねるのは、あなたがいることです」と彼は言います。 「それが子供たちが望んでいることです:存在と粘り強さ。」その永続性は配当を支払います。パーマーが最初の会議の数十年後に結婚したとき、キャシーは髪をやり、花嫁介添人をホストしました。 「彼らが私たちの家族の人生を変えたこれらの方法はすべてありました」と彼女は彼女の拡大したコミュニティについて「私のものは言うまでもありません」と言います。 Alex Hazlettは、現代の家族生活、テクノロジー、科学をカバーするフリーランスのジャーナリストです。

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