Academic journal article Social Work

Social Support for Adolescents at Risk of School Failure

Academic journal article Social Work

Social Support for Adolescents at Risk of School Failure

Article excerpt

The positive relationship between social support and an individual's physical and mental well-being (Ganster & Victor, 1988; Hardy, Richman, & Rosenfeld, 1991) has provided the impetus for a great deal of research on the clinical utility of social support for individuals and groups. For example, support has been used for purposes such as decreasing morbidity (House & Kahn, 1985), reducing stress (Cutrona & Suhr, 1994; Richman & Rosenfeld, 1987) and feelings of loss (Hobfoll & Stephens, 1990), combating burnout (Etzion, 1984; Pines, Aronson, & Kafry, 1981), increasing feelings of well-being (Ganster & Victor, 1988), increasing job performance and work innovation (Albrecht & Hall, 1991), improving performance on academic examinations (Goldsmith & Albrecht, 1993; Sarason & Sarason, 1986), reducing loneliness (Jones & Moore, 1987), and providing information and support for rural residents with AIDS (Rounds, Galinsky, & Stevens, 1991).

Social support also has been widely studied as a variable specifically designed to promote the development and adaptation of children and adolescents; for example, support has been indicated in research as useful for working with adolescent depression (Barrera & Garrison-Jones, 1992), improving academic and behavioral adjustment (Dubow, Tisak, Causey, & Hryshko, 1991; Ford & Sutphen, 1996), supporting high-risk youths and their families (Tracy, Whittaker, Boylan, Neitman, & Overstreet, 1995), and reducing delinquent behaviors that correlate highly with poor school performance (Zigler, Taussig, & Black, 1992). Furthermore, the literature on risk and protective factors and educational resilience clearly endorses the primacy of the supportive role provided by the family, the peer group, the school, and the community in predicting positive outcomes for students (Benard, 1991; Bogenschneider, 1996; Richman & Bowen, 1997; Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1994).

Social support is often less present in the lives of children and youths who are at risk of school failure (Coie et al., 1993; Richman & Bowen, 1997). The purpose of the present study was to explore how the self-perceived social support of adolescents at risk of school failure varied by the type and provider of support and to examine the effects of particular types of social support on school performance outcomes, such as attendance, grades, time studying, and school self-efficacy. By understanding provider networks, students' support patterns, and the effect of support on school performance outcomes, implications may be drawn for the use of social support as an intervention strategy for children and youths at risk of school failure.

Social support is a multidimensional concept that needs to be defined and measured accordingly (Milardo, 1992; Norbeck, Lindsey, & Carrieri, 1981; Sarason, Levine, Basham, & Sarason, 1983; Streeter & Franklin, 1992). Each of three broad types of social support - tangible, informational, and emotional (Cobb, 1976; House, 1981) - are communicated by support providers when they behave in ways that are perceived by recipients as enhancing the recipients' well-being (see Shumaker & Brownell, 1984). These perceptions of others' communication behaviors may take eight distinguishable forms:

1. listening support - the perception that an other is listening without giving advice or being judgmental

2. emotional support - the perception that an other is providing comfort and caring and indicating that she or he is on the support recipient's side

3. emotional challenge - the perception that an other is challenging the support recipient to evaluate his or her attitudes, values, and feelings

4. reality confirmation support - the perception that an other, who is similar to and who see things the same way the support recipient does, is helping to confirm the support recipient's perspective of the world

5. …

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