Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Social Goals, Social Status, and Problem Behavior among Low-Achieving and High-Achieving Adolescents from Rural Schools

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Social Goals, Social Status, and Problem Behavior among Low-Achieving and High-Achieving Adolescents from Rural Schools

Article excerpt

The current research examines how social goals and perceptions of what is needed for social status at school relate to school misbehavior and substance use among rural adolescents (N = 683). Results indicate that social goals and perceptions of social status have differential links to problem behaviors depending upon adolescents' achievement. Status social goals where adolescents' indicate that being popular is important are associated with a greater likelihood of alcohol use and school misbehavior only among high achievers in the sample. In contrast, intimacy social goals to see friends are associated with a lower probability of marijuana use regardless of achievement. Both low- and high-achieving adolescents who perceive that grades are important for high status in school are less likely to use cigarettes and cut classes. High achievers, however, are more likely to engage in school misbehavior when they perceive that college plans are needed for social status; and low achievers are more likely to report cigarette use and that they have been suspended when they perceive the social status of sports to be high. Compared to low achievers, high achievers are less likely to have engaged in problem behaviors, and they report higher levels of social goals, social status of grades and sports, as well as, sports importance and participation. Keywords: rural adolescents, academic achievement, social goals, substance use.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, the school setting provides opportunities for youth to find social support and forge relationships with peers, and also, for youth to gain understanding about how social networks function. In small, rural communities, schools are likely to be the primary places for socialization outside the home. Through school-based peer socialization, adolescents observe their peers and gain an understanding of status and hierarchies within the school, developing a sense of what behaviors are and are not valued by their peers (Crosnoe, 2011). Thus, they begin to establish what it is that they want to accomplish and to avoid when they are with their peers in school, that is, they establish their social goals (Ryan & Shim, 2008; Salmivalli & Peets, 2009). Research has documented that adolescents set such social goals as learning how to be a good friend, being intimate with friends, avoiding things that would cause embarrassment or teasing around peers, wanting to be accepted by the popular kids at school, or gaining dominance over other youth at school (Roussel, Elliot, & Feltman, 2010; Ryan & Shim, 2008). In small, rural communities, social goals in school are particularly important, as school bonding and a supportive classroom environment in these tight-knit environments serve as important protective factors in promoting engagement and positive youth development, even more so than in urban or suburban contexts (Hardré, Sullivan, & Crowson, 2009; Shears, Edwards, & Stanley, 2006).

In the small, social network of a rural school, maintaining positive relationships with others over time and having social goals may be particularly important for adolescents. Teachers and students know a lot about each other in small schools. These supportive adults can help to create a supportive atmosphere that fosters prosocial goals, achievement motivation and engagement in positive behaviors (Hardré & Reeve, 2003; Hardré et al., 2009; Lee, Smerdon, Alfeld-Liro & Brown, 2000; Singh & Dika, 2003). However, negative experiences with teachers and peers can also lead to unfavorable reputations that adolescents perceive are difficult to shiftand to strong interpersonal influences that lead to decisions and behaviors that compromise positive youth development (Lee et al., 2000). In addition, research suggests that in small, rural schools where students are in the same school from K through 8th or K through 12th grade, bullying and jockeying for social status may be more prevalent among students than in rural settings where students transition among different schools (e. …

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