Residential Wilderness Programs: The Role of Social Support in Influencing Self-Evaluations of Male Adolescents

Article excerpt

One of the most important tasks during adolescence is the development and maintenance of a strong sense of self. Positive self-evaluations are essential components in the development of one's sense of self (Harter, 1999; Rosenburg, 1985). Adolescents with negative self-evaluations are at greater risk for anti-social behavior, academic failure, peer rejection, and depression (Bird, Canino, Davies, Zhang, Ramirez, & Lahey, 2001; Dearing, 2004; Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005; Ladd, 2005). Families, schools, and communities may seek out interventions to address negative self-evaluations and problem behaviors of adolescents. School-based and community-based interventions are often successful in addressing negative self-evaluations and problem behaviors in youth (Farmer, Compton, Burns, & Robertson, 2002; Harter, 1999). However, not all adolescents benefit from these interventions, and some youth may require more intense intervention outside their communities. Therapeutic wilderness programs (1) provide one alternative context that may be effective in addressing negative self-evaluations and promoting the healthful development of self for at-risk youth (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994; Garst, Schnieder, & Baker, 2001).

Residential wilderness programs may be effective for youth who display problem behaviors due to the programs' emphasis on high levels of social support provided through group activities, emotional expression, and social interactions (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994; Miller & Sachs, 1992). Interventions that enhance social support contribute to the development of positive self-evaluations (Kagan, 1990; Short, Sandler, & Roosa, 1996). However, researchers have not specifically investigated which aspects of a residential wilderness program might promote social support and thus influence self-evaluations. Identifying the specific components of prevention or intervention approaches that are effective in addressing negative self-evaluations may help researchers identify cost-effective ways to address problems that at-risk adolescents are experiencing. This study contributes to the existing literature by identifying specific aspects of a residential wilderness program that were associated with changes in male adolescents' self-evaluations.


Negative self-evaluations (i.e., low self-esteem and low social competence) may contribute to the development of problem behaviors (Aunola, Stattin, & Nurmi, 2000; Donnellan et al., 2005). Self-evaluations are individuals' descriptions of their personal attributes and involve both global as well as domain-specific characteristics (Harter, 1999). Self-esteem, a global characteristic, is described as individuals' overall evaluation of their value as a person. Symbolic interaction theory suggests that social support from the environment influences adolescents' internalization of positive or negative feelings about the self (Larossa & Reitzes, 1993). Adolescents who enter wilderness programs may come from environments lacking in social support (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994) and as a result have internalized negative feelings about the self that influence problem behaviors.

Social competence is also an important component of self-evaluation that has been associated with the development of problem behaviors (Marcus & Kramer, 2001; Parker & Asher, 1987). Generally, the measurement of social competence assesses domain-specific judgments pertaining to individuals' skill level in their social environments (Harter, 1999). Vaughn and Hogan (1990) proposed a model of social competence, which suggested that the interaction of four components (positive relationships with peers, accurate age-appropriate social cognitions, an absence of maladaptive behaviors, and the effective use of social skills) resulted in socially competent behavior. Positive relationships with peers, as evidenced by peer social support, have been associated with fewer problem behaviors and social competence (Bierman & Furman, 1984; Collarossi & Eccles, 2003). …


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