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Citation:Cook, T. D., Herman, M. R., Phillips, M., & Settersten , R. A., Jr. (2002). Some ways in which neighborhoods, nuclear families, friendship groups, and schools jointly affect changes in early adolescent development. Child Development, 73(4), 1283-1309.

This study explores how schools, neighborhoods, nuclear families, and friendship groups are correlated and how they jointly influence positive change during early adolescence. The results showed that at the individual level, all four social contexts were positively but loosely correlated. At the collective level (schools and neighborhoods), the correlations between contexts were much stronger. Further results showed that each context had an independent, small, but positive effect, and each influenced a different set of outcomes. Families made more of a difference in the mental health domain; peers influenced social behavior; schools impacted academic performance; and neighborhoods influenced school attendance and participation in social activities. However, when all four contexts were combined, the total effect on adolescentsÕ development was much larger. When comparing students in the sample by racial categories (Black, White, Asian), the joint context effect was associated with the most change for Black students and least change for Asian students. The racially diverse, longitudinal sample of 12,398 students came from 23 middle schools in a semi-urban county area outside of Washington, D.C. Over a five-year period, cohorts of students in 7th and 8th grade completed questionnaires about their beliefs, behaviors, and perceptions about school climate. Annual district records and surveys from 1,500 teachers and school staff provided information about the climate and management of their school. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,046 parents. Census reports provided neighborhood information. Student outcome constructs were developed from the data collected and sophisticated statistical analyses were then conducted using specific measures for each of the contexts. The authors conclude that although each social context does matter for different aspects of adolescentsÕ development, and improving the quality of any one context will help, improving them all together, over time, will make a much greater difference. This implies that interventions promoting collaboration and positive interrelationships between family, neighborhoods, schools, and peer networks greatly benefit adolescents. This study did not use an experimental design, and its results should not be interpreted to mean causality between the variables. However, the statistical controls and techniques used allow confidence in the results for answering the research questions.

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