Beyond strong and weak ties: Rethinking natural mentoring


Poon, C. Y. S.; Christensen, K. M.; & Rhodes, J. E. (2019). Beyond strong and weak ties: Rethinking natural mentoring.


Natural mentoring relationships can facilitate a range of positive youth outcomes (van Dam et al., 2018). To better understand the nature and influence of natural mentors, scholars have adopted Granovetter’s (1979) model, where weak-ties refer to connections outside of an individual’s close social circle, and strong-ties represent much closer relationships. While ample research has utilized this “strong-weak tie mentor” conceptualization to elucidate youths’ access to social capital (Raposa et al., 2018), we speculate that there are other natural mentoring relationships, which we call “interstitial ties,” that do not necessarily fit the dichotomy. These relationships are not necessarily within youths’ families but are not as distanced as community-based mentors like coaches or teachers. We present preliminary findings from a national survey of U.S. adults’ mentoring attitudes and activities (n=393), investigating how “interstitial ties” (i.e., adults who mentor their child’s friend or a family friend’s child) might differ from weak-and strong-tie mentors in terms of perceived mentoring barriers, motivations, activities, and outcomes. Regression analyses revealed that interstitial ties’ perceived closeness to mentees was significantly higher than weak ties’ but lower than strong ties’ closeness. They were also less likely to endorse severe needs in the family as a barrier to mentoring, and more likely to meet youths over the phone or in the home than in community settings. Findings highlight the previously unexplored nature of interstitial ties and suggest that natural mentoring may be better conceptualized on a continuum rather than categorically. Finally, we will present plans for subsequent analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a representative sample of adolescents and young adults with five data waves collected over 22 years. Phase two of this ongoing research project will investigate the long-term psychosocial, educational, vocational, and economic outcomes associated with interstitial tie mentors

Reference Type

Conference paper

Book Title

2019 Biennial Conference on Community Research and Action


Poon, C. Y. S.
Christensen, K. M.
Rhodes, J. E.

Year Published


City of Publication

Chicago, IL

Reference ID