Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Staying out of Trouble: Community Resources and Problem Behavior among High-Risk Adeolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Staying out of Trouble: Community Resources and Problem Behavior among High-Risk Adeolescents

Article excerpt

This research considers how community resources affect adolescent risk-taking attitudes and problem behavior. Data from the 1990 United States Census and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Merged Mother-Child files are merged to form a sample of 860 adolescents age 14 to 18 in 1994. Among these high-risk adolescents, selected community resources have significant associations with adolescent outcomes. Residential stability decreases both adolescent risk-taking attitudes and aggressive behavior, regardless of the level of disadvantage present within the community. Higher quality schools, as perceived by mothers, are environments in which adolescents are less likely to get into trouble, even controlling for attributes of the adolescent's family situation.

Key Words: adolescent problem behavior, community influences, family-level stressors.

Even under the best of circumstances, moving successfully through adolescence is difficult. Living in a neighborhood with fewer resources can make this process more of a struggle. When a neighborhood is deficient in resources such as residential stability, a strong economic base, adequate schools, and a baseline level of public safety, adolescents are less likely to find opportunities for personal growth or to find positive role models to engage them in healthy activities. In early studies, researchers were concerned with the link between contextual effects such as community socioeconomic composition, residential turnover, heterogeneity of residents, family disruption, and adolescent delinquent behavior (Shaw & McKay, 1942). Although early researchers did not formally test a resource model, much of their work was concerned with the effects of inadequate community resources on maladaptive adolescent development (Wilson, 1959; Turner, Michael, & Boyle, 1966).

More recent work has addressed the effects of community resources on a wide range of child and adolescent outcomes such as cognitive performance (Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, Klebanov, & Sealand, 1993), school outcomes such as dropping out (Brooks-Gunn et al., 1993; Hill & O'Neil, 1992), child behavior problems (Duncan, BrooksGunn, & Klebanov, 1994; Hill & O'Neil, 1992), and transitions into nonmarital adolescent intercourse (Billy, Brewster, & Grady, 1993). This prior research suggests that adolescents who grow up in resource-poor neighborhoods might have a more difficult time developing the skills necessary to succeed in school, stay out of trouble, avoid mistimed pregnancies, and ultimately achieve financial independence as adults.

This study traces the influence of community resources on adolescent problem behavior by addressing two questions: (a) Do community characteristics influence an adolescent's willingness to take risks? (b) Do community characteristics matter in predicting adolescent problem behavior? Data are drawn from the 1990 U. S. Census and the 1994 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) Merged Mother-Child files to form a sample of 860 adolescents age 14 to 18. Many of the mothers were under the age of 20 at the birth of the adolescent. That these adolescents are born to disproportionately young mothers presents an opportunity to trace the long-term effects of having children at earlier ages. One of the common consequences of early childbearing is attenuated social mobility and decreased economic resources available to both mother and child. Often, these families are more likely to live in neighborhoods characterized by inadequate community resources.

BACKGROUND

This research considers the ways in which community resources influence adolescent attitudes and behavior. The work extends prior research on community resources in several ways. First, it helps refine the existing literature by considering the effects on important individual-level attitudinal measures such as an adolescent's penchant for taking risks. In a recent article, Brewster, Billy, and Grady (1993) admit that their conclusions would be appreciably bolstered by the ability to evaluate the effects of community properties on proximate adolescent outcomes, but they explain that their data were not sufficient. …

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