Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Community Context of Social Resources and Adolescent Mental Health

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Community Context of Social Resources and Adolescent Mental Health

Article excerpt

This study investigated cross-level mediational and moderational community and family influences on adolescent depressive symptoms. Using multilevel data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we predicted that structural community characteristics such as community poverty and ethnic heterogeneity would influence community social resources, which in turn would influence adolescent depressive symptoms. We further predicted that community social resources would influence adolescent depressive symptoms through family social resources. Findings also suggested that the influence of the parent-child relationship on adolescent depressive symptoms is weaker in more adverse communities than in less adverse communities. The findings underscore the importance of placing family process models within the community context when adolescent outcomes are investigated.

Key Words: adolescent mental health, community context, social resources.

Previous developmental studies have shown that lack of social resources within families, particularly poor parent-child relationships, mediate the detrimental influence of adverse family conditions on adolescent development (Conger, Ge, Elder, & Simons, 1994; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Wickrama, Conger, & Lorenz, 1997). At the community level, however, consistent with the social disorganization (Shaw & McKay, 1942) and social control (Sampson, 1997) perspectives, lack of community social resources has been shown to mediate the detrimental influence of structural community adversity on adolescent development. A large volume of community-focused studies have documented that socialization processes at the community level contribute to adolescent outcomes (Aneshensel & Sucoff, 1996; Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1994; Elliot et al., 1996; Kowaleski-Jones, 2000). More importantly, recent studies have provided evidence that these community processes are independent of the socialization processes at the family level (Ge et al., 2002; Hoffman, 2002). Very little research has focused on the manner in which both community-and family-level processes combine to influence adolescent developmental outcomes, however (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000).

The ecological-developmental perspective views adolescents as developing within a set of embedded social contexts (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Adolescents develop in families, and their families function in communities. Thus, multilevel processes, about which we know very little, may combine to influence adolescent development. Such processes may include (a) cross-level mediations and (b) cross-level moderations.

In the present study, cross-level mediation refers to the indirect influence of community-level factors on adolescent outcomes. That influence occurs through proximal family-level factors. Relatively little work has explored the possible role of family-level factors, particularly the parent-child relationship as a mediating mechanism linking community context to adolescent outcomes (Halpern-Felsher et al., 1997; Klebanov, Brooks-Gunn, Chase-Lansdale, & Gordon, 1997; Spencer, McDermott, Burton, & Kochman, 1997). The present study investigates the manner in which the parent-child relationship mediates the association between community context and adolescent mental health. By so doing, we provide empirical evidence supporting the influence of proximal mechanisms; the need to identify such proximal mechanisms has been stressed by community researchers (Simons, Johnson, Beaman, Conger, & Whitbeck, 1996; South & Crowder, 1999).

Cross-level moderation refers to the multiplicative effect of community and family-level factors on adolescents. By investigating cross-level moderations, we are able to explore the differential influence of family social resources, given the various levels of community adversity experienced by adolescents and by families. …

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