Adolescent Self-Reports of Health and Happiness: the Importance of Feeling Safe
Sandee D. Shulkin, MSW, Boston College, Christina J. Matz-Costa, MSW, Boston College, and Sarah Morrison, Boston College.
Purpose: Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) and the ecological theory posits that an individual and his/her environment will influence each other reciprocally and dynamically. Research has shown that adolescents' neighborhood and peer group satisfaction are important to their development (Allison et al., 1999; Berndt & Keefe, 1995; Brody et al., 2001; Chapman, 2005; Molnar et al., 2004; Pettit et al., 1999; Quane & Rankin, 1998; Windle, 1994). The authors in this study aim to specifically discover the indicators of a middle school aged adolescent's self-report of health and happiness. Because adolescents are a unique age cohort, one that often falls awkwardly between dependence and autonomy, this study seeks to unravel the intricacies in ‘what makes an adolescent feel well.' This study hypothesizes that an adolescent's perceptions of his or her neighborhood contexts and safety will influence the health (headaches, trouble going to sleep, etc.) and happiness (feeling pleased with self, confident, etc.) outcomes related with such perceptions. Methods: The Nurturing Families Study gathered data from 357 working parents and their children in grades 6-8 who lived in 6 different US communities. In person interviews gathered extensive information about work, family life, and communities. The study protocols included items which measured parents' and adolescents' subjective assessments of important social contexts, including the families' communities of residence. Data were collected about parents' and adolescents' perceptions of programs and services in the communities, neighborhood relationships and qualities, family-supportive community policies, values in the communities which welcome diverse families, as well as overall satisfaction with the neighborhood. Results: As hypothesized, bi-variate and hierarchical regression analyses revealed that adolescents' self reports of being bullied, peer satisfaction, school coherence, and neighborhood safety were all significantly related to the adolescents' reports of health and happiness. In addition, parent's rating of their financial condition was significantly and negatively related to an adolescent's report of health and happiness. Our independent variables, taken together, predicted over 30% of the variance in children's health and happiness scores. Qualitative analysis of child interviews supplements the quantitative findings. Implications: This study illustrates and supports the importance of perceived neighborhood and school cohesion for adolescents. Given the changing labor force demographics, and the fact that more families have working adults, the data suggest that social workers and other professionals who work with adolescents in community or school organizations will benefit from implementing and expanding supervised activities after school. The results also determine that community development initiatives can include safety programming and inclusiveness as goals. It is critical that adolescents have policies and programs established in their macro environment that will instill a sense of security and safety, thereby improving their overall sense of health and happiness. Future research has the potential to enhance the field of knowledge in this area in many ways, including longitudinal analysis of self-reports of health and happiness.