Aligning Youth's Attributes and Needs with Ecological Assets: A Relational-Developmental Examination of Supportive Non-Parental Youth-Adult Relationships Across Adolescence

Yu, Mark Vincent, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Supportive youth-adult relationships (YARs) during adolescence can be powerful avenues for positive development. Utilizing a Relational-Developmental Systems approach, which emphasizes individual ↔ context processes, the purpose of this dissertation was to understand how and why supportive YARs matter and are effective for youth’s positive development across adolescence. The data for this dissertation come from a longitudinal mixed-methods study on YARs. In Phase 1 of the study, 289 youth participated in an initial screening survey. In Phase 2 of the study, a subsample of 40 youth was purposefully selected from the survey sample to participate in five in-depth interviews across three years. Utilizing qualitative methods, Paper 1 explored positive teacher-student relationships, one type of YAR, in order to identify and understand key interactions and characteristics of high-quality, supportive YARs in schools and classrooms. Two overarching themes emerged from the data: teacher noticing and teacher investment. Within these themes, the role of “free” and “same-level” conversations appeared critical in promoting positive teacher-student relationships. Paper 2 was a mixed-methods exploration of specific processes that underlie YARs, guided by two specific frameworks: attachment and social support. Findings from this study underscore the importance of considering youth’s individual attributes (e.g., attachment models) in the context of their ongoing relationships to gain a more nuanced understanding of the role and dynamics of supportive YARs. Paper 3 was a qualitative study that compared the characteristics and nature of five types of social support (companionship, emotional, validation, instrumental and informational) between two distinct stages in adolescence: early and late adolescence. Findings provide implications to understand, promote and sustain supportive YARs during key developmental stages in adolescence. Collectively, these three papers shed light on how individual ↔ context processes operate in the context of supportive YARs. These relationships provide a variety of developmentally appropriate supports – supports that have strong implications in optimizing youth’s positive growth and development across adolescence.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
adolescence, qualitative methods, mixed-methods, social support, youth-adult relationships, positive youth development
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