Neighborhood, Family, Peer, and Youth Center Experiences as Predictors of Urban Youth Development

Date of Completion

January 2011


Psychology, Developmental|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




Over the last decade, positive youth development (PYD) and ecological frameworks have been widely researched and incorporated into youth programs across the United States. The PYD framework emphasizes the strengths and competencies of youth as they move through adolescence and the relationships and contexts that promote competencies (Benson, 2002; 2003). Ecological approaches take into account the nested and complex interplay between various systems such as families, peers, youth programs, and neighborhoods (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). The present study used hierarchical linear modeling and structural equation modeling to explore the influence of supportive relationships on youth outcomes. ^ The results of this study demonstrated that supportive relationships with family members, peers and youth program staff predicted youths' psychological well-being and prosocial orientation. That is, each type of supportive relationship was related to an increased sense of well-being and increased prosocial orientation. Moderation between each of the microsystems was tested, and it was found that the main effects model best predicted each of the youth development outcomes. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to explore the impact of neighborhood poverty level on the relationship between supportive relationships and each youth outcome. The results indicated that neighborhood poverty level did not influence the relationship between supportive relationships and outcomes. Supportive relationships were equally predictive of outcomes across neighborhoods. Finally, structural equation modeling was used to create latent variables and test a model describing the relationship between family, peer, and youth program microsystems and youth outcomes. Fit and modification indices suggested that a mediation model best fit the data. More specifically, the effect of family on youth outcomes is both direct and mediated by peer support and youth program experiences.^ The results of this study demonstrate the significant influence of families, peers, and youth programs on youth development outcomes. This is especially true of family relationships which were found to be predictive of youths' relationships with peers and experiences in youth programs. Finally, these findings underscore the importance of policy and youth programming aimed to foster positive and supportive relationships for youth.^