Research Reveals – Chapter Nineteen

RR19.1: Parents as Role Models
In their book The Altruistic Personality, Samuel and Pearl Oliner tell how they interviewed 406 persons who rescued Jews from the Nazi Holocaust and 126 people who lived in the same parts of Nazi-occupied Europe but did not get involved in helping the Jews.They found that of the people they interviewed, 52% helped because of the moral code of the social group and they responded to an authority figure of that group. Of this group, 19% of them had a strong internal socialized norm so that their helping action appeared to be independent of any authority, and 37% had an empathic orientation a response of the heart to people in pain.

The rescuers were much more likely than non-rescuers to say that:

  • Their parents modeled caring values. In contrast, parents of non-rescuers were more likely to have emphasized economic values, such as getting a good job. (This should make us really consider what kind of conversation we have around the dinner table!)
  • Non-rescuers also said that their parents were more likely to use harsh punishments instead. Rescuers instead cited that their parents would occasionally punish them but more often they would teach and explain things.
  • Rescuers’ parents also were much more likely to explicitly teach a positive attitude and tolerance towards people of different culture and religion.[i]

RR19.2: Forgiveness Is Good for Health

  • A recent study done by Paleari, Regalia and Fincham has shown that forgiveness is directly related to marital quality. The higher the level of forgiveness, the higher the marital quality.[ii]
  • Fincham also concluded that forgiveness and marital satisfaction were related. He went on to show that forgiveness affects the overall behaviour of a spouse towards the partner, and that it is not independent of marital satisfaction.[iii]
  • Orathinkal and Vansteenwegen did studies among married couples in Belgium and concluded that forgiveness and marital satisfaction are linked.[iv]
  • Unforgiveness is shown to correlate highly with anger, which in turn has been linked to decreased immune functioning.[v]
  • Activity in the brain during unforgivenesss is consistent with brain activity during stress, anger and aggression. There may even be a neurophysical basis to label unforgiveness as a separate emotion.[vi]
  • Seybold et al. examined physical markers in patients at a Veteran Administration Medical Centre and found that people who were chronically unforgiving had blood chemistry assays that were similar to those of people under stress.[vii]
  • Testing blood pressure and heart rates, Lawler et al. found that high trait forgivers showed the least cardiovascular reactivity and best recovery patterns, whereas low trait forgivers in unforgiving states showed the highest levels of reactivity and poorest recovery patterns.[viii] Unforgiving people put their health in harm’s way by inducing stress and impairing heart recovery each time they are triggered by thoughts of unforgiveness. On the other hand, forgiving people quell these responses by nurturing forgiving thoughts.
  • Lack of forgiveness has shown a strong correlation with anxiety in developmentally appropriate contexts of hurt (e.g., college students hurt by friends or romantic partners; parents hurt by children; spouses hurt by infidelity).[ix]
  • On the other hand, there is a positive correlation between forgiveness and measures of well-being.[x] In other words, the more forgiving a person is, the less anxiety, depression and/or anger will remain, even after experiencing a great deal of hurt. When we refuse to forgive, the stakes are high. It affects our mental health, our marriage relationships and most importantly, our salvation. When we do not forgive parties who have hurt us, we are not “punishing” them, rather, we are actually putting ourselves in harm’s way.

RR19.3: Older and Younger Children View Forgiveness Differently
The findings of Dr. Enright and his colleagues are as follows:[xi]

  • Children ages 9-10 equate forgiveness with revenge. In other words, children at this age would not naturally want to forgive an offender until  he were punished.
  • Young children also desire an apology before they are able to forgive. As mentioned in the definition of forgiveness, this should not be a requirement for adults; but for youngsters, this matters. Even for adults, apologising paves the way for reconciliation. Parents who apologise for mistakes that were their fault (both in front of and to their children) are not only getting reconciled, but also being good role models for their children. I have heard many adults say that their parents have never apologised to them. Dr. Enright found that children whose parents modelled forgiveness ended up practicing it themselves.
  • When it comes to who they should forgive, adolescents tend to listen to trusted authorities, such as a teacher. It is important for parents and teachers to collaborate and send a consistent message to their children on this subject. Ideally, teachers and parents should discuss and be clear about their understanding of forgiveness. When there is a clear, consistent message about the value of forgiveness, children will be more likely to internalise it and make it part of their belief system.
  • Older adolescents usually focus on what will happen after the forgiveness is extended, such as whether or not it will lead to restored relationships.
  • Some adults take a loving and unconditional view of forgiveness, in that when forgiveness is offered, they have no resentment towards the offender, even though they disapprove of his actions. They separated the offense (the behaviour of the offender) from the offender himself, making forgiveness easier.

A study that was originally conducted in 1982 evolved into a book published in 1987 that describes why Catholic schools in the 80s in the US outperformed public schools in several areas such as having a higher percentage of students that graduated, enrolled into college and continued college once they were enrolled.[xii] In its day it was probably the most comprehensive research done on American high schools. The authors of this work, Coleman and Hoffer, attribute these successes to the kind of communities that these Catholic schools built. In particular, they distinguished between two kinds of communities, value communities and functional communities.[xiii]

A value community in a school is formed as a result of parents choosing a particular school because of a shared value that a particular school has to offer, such as a high passing rate or a high number of students entering top universities. A functional community in a school has a common sense of values and shared relationships among those who choose a particular school. In other words, parents and students interact at places of worship, at school, and in each other’s homes when they visit one another. Such interaction takes place between parents of a student’s friend and that student himself. So the community is functional and relationships take place on multiple levels. This level of community was one of the main causes of the lower dropout rates in Catholic schools versus other schools that had less effective value communities.

Functional Communities Have Proven Outcomes
In 1982 a study called High School Achievement was published.[xiv] In its day it was probably the most comprehensive research done on American high schools. Its crucial findings were that students in private Catholic high schools consistently outperformed public school students in several areas such as students from Catholic schools were more likely to graduate, more likely to enrol in college, and more likely to continue their college studies once enrolled. This stirred the curiosity of many. These positive outcomes were partly attributed to the kind of community that was built in these Catholic schools. It was the first study that showed that school dropout rates were related to the aspect of community. Two of the original authors, James Coleman and Thomas Hoffer, detailed and revised their original work and wrote a book, which was published in 1987, entitled, Public and Private High Schools: The Impact of Communities.[xv] This book describes the kind of functional communities among the parents and students of different families that provided support and brought about the positive outcomes in the students of Catholic schools. This stood in contrast with the less effective value communities that were prevalent in the other private high schools.

RR19.5: What Kind of Mentoring Works?
Rhodes and DuBois published an article on mentoring in 2006 for the US based Society for Research in Child Development. They found that mentoring relationships were helpful if they had the following components:[xvi]

  • Connection – Being close is the foundation of the youth-mentor relationships. In fact, in line with one of the main themes of this book, studies are showing that close bonds between the mentor and the youth are likely to promote positive outcomes. The authors noted that a crucial condition for the mentoring relationship to be effective was for the two people involved to feel connected. Rhodes and DuBois said that there should be a sense of mutual trust between the mentor and mentee; they should like and understand each other, and treat each other with respect. The basic connection between mentor and youth is so powerful that ethnic and or racial background of the mentor and youth did not appear as a significant factor. (Our own experience in a multiethnic church community has shown that to be the case over and over again—the connection between people transcends culture, race and ethnicity.)
  • Skills – When a mentor possesses specific skills and knowledge in helping youth, there is a greater chance that an effective mentoring process will take place. (We feel that mentors should receive initial and on-going training in order to be equipped. For Christian mentors, this would involve biblical discipleship training as well as listening and other leadership skills.)
  • Role-modelling – The mentor needs to be a respectable role model. (This is one of the reasons we like to use parents as mentors—they are usually older Christians and not as likely to leave the youngster in the lurch.)
  • Unselfishness – The mentor needs to work towards helping the youth, as opposed to serving his own interests. (We believe that mentors should be monitored by seasoned leaders to keep motives in check.)
  • Goals – Mentor and youth should set goals for the relationship and for the mentee that are mutually agreed upon (not just decided by the mentor.)
  • Consistency – Studies have shown that regular contact has been linked to positive youth outcomes, as this provides emotional support, feelings of security and attachment in interpersonal relationships. (We recommend a weekly one-on-one time, or at least every two weeks, and every other day by social media just to keep in touch.)
  • Duration – According to this research, the benefits of mentoring appear to accrue with time. They found that positive effects became stronger, provided the relationship remained intact. It was also highlighted that a mentoring relationship lasting less than six months caused a decline in functioning. (In other words, kids who were set up with a mentor relationship that did not even last six months presented as being in a worse position than they were before the mentoring relationship began, and worse off than kids who were not in mentoring relationships at all! This underscores the importance of mentors being willing to persevere, and, unless harm is being caused, the relationship should not be changed quickly.)

Group Settings – The final component of youth mentoring that showed up as being helpful is mentoring in groups. Group mentoring provides motivation from peers and offers alternative solutions. It also improves the relationships among peers. This interaction, along with constructive feedback from the mentor, serves as an upward call and can be useful in inspiring mentees to make positive changes in their lives. (The regularity of group and one-on-one relationships should be balanced and one should not be done at the expense of the other; both should take place. We recommend a group setting of at least once a month. Again there is no “one size that fits all”; the schedule of both mentors and youth should be taken into account when this is planned.)

[i] Baumrind, D., Berkowitz, M. W., Lickona, T., Nucci, L. P., & Watson, M. (2008). Parenting for character: Five experts, five practices. (D. Streight, Ed.) Oregon: CSEE. 47.

[ii] Paleari, F. G., Regalia, C., & Fincham, F. D. (2005). Marital quality, forgiveness, empathy, and rumination: a Longitudinal analysis. Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality, 3, 368-378.

[iii] Fincham, F. D. (2000). The kiss of porcupines: From attributing responsibility for forgiving. Personal Relationships, 9, 239-251.

[iv] Orathinkal, J., & Vansteenwegen, A. (2006). The effect of forgiveness on marital satisfaction in relationship to marital stability. Contemporary Family Therapy, 28, 251-260.

[v] Herbert, T., & Cohen, S. (1993). Stress and immunity in humans: a meta-analytical review. Psychosomatic Medicine, 55, 364-379.

[vi] Pietrini, P., Guazzelli, M., Basso, G., Jaffe, K., & Grafman, J. (2000). Neural correlates of imaginal aggressive behavior assessed by positron emission tomography in healthy subjects. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 1772-1781.

[vii] Seybold, K. S., Hill, P. C., Neumann, J. K., & Chi, D. S. (2001). Physiological and psychological correlates of forgiveness. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 20, 250-259.

[viii] Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. Y., Piferi, R. A., Billington, E., Jobe, R., Edmondson, K., Jones, W. H. (2003). A change of heart: cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 26, 373-393.

[ix] Fitzgibbons, R. P. (1986). The cognitive and emotive use of forgiveness in the treatment of anger. Psychotherapy, 23, 629-633; Park, Y., & Enright, R. D. (1997). The development of forgiveness in the context of adolescent friendship conflict in Korea. Journal of Adolescence, 20, 393-402; Subkoviak, M. J., Enright, R. D., & Wu, C. (1992, October). Current developments related to measuring forgiveness. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.; Subkoviak, M. J., Enright, R. D., Wu, C., Gassin, E. A., Freedman, S., Olson, L. M., & Sarinopoulos, I. C. (1995). Measuring interpersonal forgiveness in late adolescence and middle adulthood. Journal of Adolescence, 18, 641-655.

[x] Coyle, C. T., & Enright, R. D. (1997). Forgiveness intervention with postabortion men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 1042-1046; Sarinopoulos, I. C. (1996). Forgiveness in adolescence and middle adulthood: Comparing the Enright Forgiveness Inventory with Wade Forgiveness Scale. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

[xi] Enright, R. D. (2001). Forgiveness is a choice: A step-by-step process for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington: APA LifeTools. 220.

[xii] Coleman, J. S., Hoffer, T., & Kilgore, S. (1982). High school achievement: public, Catholic, and private schools compared. New York: Basic Books Inc.; Coleman, J. S., & Hoffer, T. (1987). Public and private high schools: The impact of communities. New York: Basic Books Inc.

[xiii] Coleman & Hoffer (1987), Public and private high schools.

[xiv] Coleman, J. S., Hoffer, T., & Kilgore, S. (1982). High school achievement: public, Catholic, and private schools compared. New York: Basic Books Inc.

[xv] Coleman & Hoffer (1987), Public and private high schools.

[xvi] Rhodes, J. E., & DuBois, D. L. (2006). Understanding and facilitating the youth mentoring movement. Social Policy Report: Giving Child and Youth Development Knowledge Away, 20(3), 1-19.