Stress-Buffering Factors Related to Adolescent Coping: A Path Analysis

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

To uncover those factors that buffer the impact of stressful negative experiences on adolescent adjustment, a theoretical model of adolescent stress and coping, with social support and social problem solving proposed as moderators, was investigated using path analysis. The study was conducted with 122 ninth and tenth-grade nonreferred high school students. Using the LISREL statistical package (Joreskog & Sorbom, 1986), it was found that a recursive loop leading from stress outcomes back to negative stressors did not allow for a successful solution to the model. However, the effects of stressful events on adjustment were mediated by coping resources, which included a combination of problem-solving abilities and social support. Overall, the findings replicated previous investigations that have demonstrated direct relationships among stressful life events, social support, problem solving, and adolescent adjustment. While a successful fit to the theoretical model was not attained, it was concluded that a refined model may provide a more acceptable solution.

INTRODUCTION

Unhealthy adaptation to stress can take many forms, such as school maladjustment. For example, stressors at home and school may lead to reduced attention span and to diminished motivation to succeed academically (Pryor-Brown & Cowen, 1989). Some students develop socially maladaptive coping patterns, including verbal and physical aggression toward others, defiance of authority, acting out, and juvenile delinquency (Compas, Howell, Phares, Williams, & Giunta, 1989). Anxiety (Swearingen & Cohen, 1985a, 1985b), depression, and suicidal

ideation (Cohen-Sandier, Berman, & King, 1982) are other reactions to stress. Moreover, some youths experience psychophysiological symptoms in response to chronic or severe levels of stress (Walker & Greene, 1987).

The availability of coping resources varies considerably among students. During times of high stress, these resources, whether social or individual, may be insufficient. When coping resources, such as problem-solving skills, are inadequate, stressful situations may give rise to unhealthy outcomes (Spirito, Overholser, & Vinnick, 1995; Wills, Vaccaro, & Benson, 1995).

Research has sought to explicate factors associated with adolescents' stress-related coping. Models have been constructed to identify the key variables in the stress-adjustment relationship (see Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Petersen & Spiga, 1982; Rice, Herman, & Petersen, 1993; Shermis & Coleman, 1990). However, such models have rarely been examined using rigorous statistical analyses that allow for modification of the particular model to provide for a goodness of fit of key variables based upon the findings. Moreover, there continues to be little understanding as to how the results of such investigations can be applied to interventions in the area of adolescent health. The intent of the present investigation was to specify and test a model of stress-related coping among high school students, examine the model's key components, and utilize this information to provide guidelines for school-based interventions to address adolescent health issues.

Shermis and Coleman Model

While adult models of stress and coping processes have been postulated (e.g., Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), there is a paucity of models for adolescents. Shermis and Coleman (1990) have offered a cognitive-behavioral model of adolescent stress and coping (see Figure 1). It has five major components: environmental stressors, environmental moderators, personal factors, stress outcomes, and behavioral outcomes.

Environmental stressors include daily hassles (e.g., getting involved in an argument, experiencing bad weather, having plans change unexpectedly) and major life events (e.g., parental divorce, death of a friend or relative, serious illness or injury), with differential effects (Compas, 1987b). …