Academic journal article Family Relations

Influences of Cumulative Risk and Protective Factors on the Adjustment of Adolescents in Military Families

Academic journal article Family Relations

Influences of Cumulative Risk and Protective Factors on the Adjustment of Adolescents in Military Families

Article excerpt

The accumulation of social and ecological risk factors has been associated with poorer mental health and developmental outcomes among adolescents, including higher levels of depressed mood and declining academic performance (Buehler & Gerard, 2013), as well as poor self-regulation (Doan, Fuller-Rowell, & Evans, 2012). Establishing and maintaining positive social connections with people and institutions is foundational in facilitating youth well-being and healthy development (Larson, 2011) and may be particularly relevant for those with greater exposure to risk and vulnerability, including adolescents in active duty military families (henceforth military youth). Healthy social connections, such as family cohesion and available social support networks, are predicted to serve as protective factors (Garmezy, 1985) in promoting resilience for military youth who are faced with the usual adjustments of adolescence as well as adjustments related to military life (Lucier-Greer, Arnold, et al., 2014; Mmari, Bradshaw, Sudhinaraset, & Blum, 2010). Although parental military service offers a level of economic stability for families (e.g., consistent parental employment), living in an active duty military family is also characterized as highly transitional as adolescents contend with parental deployment, relocations, and school changes. Concern has been expressed among interventionists and public health researchers related to the potential pile-up of stressors for the nearly two million child dependents with U.S. military parents (Davis, Blaschke, & Stafford, 2012; U.S. Department of Defense, 2012). Thus, in this study we sought to identify leverage points for supporting and facilitating positive development among military youth by answering the following questions: What are the relationships between cumulative risk and adolescent outcomes of depression, academic performance, and persistence (a proxy for resilience)? What aspects of social life, conceptualized as a range of connections with others, mediate the relationships between risk and relevant outcomes?

Theoretical and Empirical Foundation

A range of sociodemographic and contextual risk factors influence adolescent well-being, and their cumulative impact is thought to be especially problematic. This accumulation of risk factors is described as a pile-up effect in the literature on family stress; suggestions are that stressors, both big and small, build on one another to create adversity for the family and each of its members (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983). Researchers and family scientists have operationalized this pile-up effect by measuring the cumulative risk that an individual faces (Rutter, 1979, 1993). This perspective of risk is thought to reflect the complex social experiences that individuals face. In other words, youth are sometimes required to manage multiple risk factors simultaneously (Perkins & Hartless, 2002; Small & Luster, 1994), and cumulative risk models take into account the fact that risk factors occur in the presence of and in relation to a number of other risk factors. Findings based on military and nonmilitary samples of youth suggest that higher levels of cumulative risk are associated with increased developmental vulnerabilities and maladjustment (Appleyard, Egeland, Van Dulmen, & Sroufe, 2005; Lucier-Greer, O'Neal, Arnold, Mancini, & Wickrama, 2014). Accordingly, researchers, interventionists, and policy makers are invested in identifying protective factors-in particular, those that can be modified or enhanced-that promote resilience and positive youth outcomes. Identifying protective factors within the family and community provides an opportunity to intervene at multiple levels in the lives of youth, particularly those faced with a pile-up of stressors, as change takes place through and across a broad range of factors (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 2004).

In identifying social and relational factors hypothesized to influence youth well-being, we invoke two primary theoretical perspectives based on a conceptual framework specifically created to investigate resilience in military families (Bowen, Martin, & Mancini, 2013). …

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