Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Factors Associated with Perceptions of Family Belonging among Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Factors Associated with Perceptions of Family Belonging among Adolescents

Article excerpt

Adolescence is a critical point in the life course for accomplishing key developmental tasks. As children grow into adolescence, they desire greater autonomy and spend increasing amounts of time with peers (Furstenberg, 2000). Parent-child conflict tends to increase and engagement in shared activities declines (Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Metzger, 2006). When these relationships remain emotionally close, however, parents continue to be valuable resources for their children. In addition, a positive home environment and feelings of family belonging can promote positive adolescent development (Cavanagh, 2008; King, Boyd, & Pragg, 2016). Adolescents still need their families as foundations from which to move out into the world and gain independence and autonomy (Chubb & Fertman, 1992). Indeed, adolescents' emotional separation from the family has been found to be associated with negative outcomes, including deviance and substance use (Baer & Schmitz, 2007).

Family belonging encompasses feelings of inclusion within one's family, including feelings of being understood, of having fun together, and of being paid attention to (Goodenow, 1992; Leake, 2007). Feelings of belonging are conceptually distinct from the quality of an individual's relationships with each family member (King, Boyd, & Thorsen, 2015), although the quality of these relationships likely influences perceptions of family belonging (e.g., Broderick, 1993). Empirical evidence supports this distinction, indicating that parent-child relationships and the extent to which children and adolescents feel they belong to their families are statistically independent predictors of well-being (e.g., Cavanagh, 2008). Despite evidence that perceptions of family belonging contribute to child well-being above and beyond the quality of parent-child relationships, and, although a large literature aims to identify predictors of positive relationships between parents and children, few studies have examined which factors contribute to children's perceptions of belonging in families.

To address this gap in the literature, the current study uses nationally representative data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to examine the correlates of adolescents' perceptions of family belonging in two-biological-parent families. Guided by family systems theory, particular attention is paid here to how perceptions of family belonging are related to the quality of ties between family members. We compare our results to a recent study that examined the correlates of family belonging in married mother-stepfather families and also employed data from the Add Health study (King et al., 2015), with an eye toward identifying similarities and differences in the correlates of family belonging across family structures.


Individuals have a basic psychological need to feel they belong to a social group (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Maslow, 1954/1970). Family members, and parents in particular, can help meet this need in children by providing love and affection. A positive home environment in which children feel understood and supported and where family members share enjoyable experiences together can also help children feel that they belong to the larger family group. Several studies suggest that family belonging is a protective factor against a range of negative adolescent outcomes, including emotional distress, delinquency, violence, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, substance use, early sexual debut, and negative academic behaviors (Cavanagh, 2008; Crosnoe & Elder, 2004; King et al., 2016; Resnick et al., 1997).

Measurement of family belonging in the extant literature varies somewhat across studies and is sometimes referred to as family connectedness (e.g., Brown & Manning, 2009; Cavanagh, 2008) or positive family environment (e.g., Amato & Kane, 2011). Although often sharing similar types of items, two different approaches to measurement of this construct are evident. …

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