The Influence of Children's Perceptions of Connectedness to their Families, School, and Peers on their Psychosocial Functioning

Law, Peter Charles (2007). The Influence of Children's Perceptions of Connectedness to their Families, School, and Peers on their Psychosocial Functioning PhD Thesis, School of Education, University of Queensland.

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Author Law, Peter Charles
Thesis Title The Influence of Children's Perceptions of Connectedness to their Families, School, and Peers on their Psychosocial Functioning
School, Centre or Institute School of Education
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Monica Cuskelly
Abstract/Summary This thesis tests a theoretical model hypothesizing that children's perceptions of parenting practices and family climate, and their family structure, influence their sense of family connectedness, which in turn, impacts on their psychosocial functioning. The model posits that family connectedness influences children's perceptions of school and peer connectedness, as well as the type of peer group to which they belong, and that these variables have an additional effect on their functioning. Few studies have investigated the combined influence of the family, school, and peers on children's well being. The thesis provides an original analysis of the interactive impact of those important social systems that influence child development. Given the high rate of mental health problems amongst our youth, the model, if substantiated, provides a basis for understanding more fully the ways in which young people's experiences within social settings impact on their general functioning. Student and parentlguardian scales consisting of previously established instruments, and a teacher student-adjustment index were administered to 563 students (attending Years 6 to 1 I in state schools located in the Brisbane metropolitan area), 266 caregivers, and teachers who provided adjustment ratings for 461 students. Developmental changes to the relationships identified in the model were explored by comparing students' responses across three cohorts: Years 617 (N = 205), Years 819 (N= 178), and Years 1011 1 (N = 180). The theoretical model was tested using two related statistical techniques: structural equational modeling, and factor analysis, multiple regression, and mediation testing. The theoretical model was substantially confirmed by the empirical data. Only family structure did not contribute to children's psychosocial functioning. Children's gender had no impact on the relationships, and the family's socioeconomic status was found to have a minor impact on children's well being only for younger children. It was established that children's positive perceptions of parenting practices and well functioning family climates create a strong sense of family connectedness, which was centrally important in influencing children's adjustment. Family connectedness was found to indirectly influence adjustment by regulating children's sense of attachment to peers, peer group type, and school. These factors had a mediating and combined impact on the relationship between family connectedness and children's adjustment. Additionally, school connectedness and family connectedness had an independent, and approximately equal, impact on children's adjustment. The identified relationships contribute significantly to the attachment literature by indicating the mechanisms by which young people form multiple attachments, and the impact these attachments have on children's functioning. The results also support ecological framework theory as those environmental influences closest to the child were found to have both a direct and interactive impact on children. Although the strength of the relationships varied somewhat across the three cohorts, relationships amongst the variables were consistent with those described for the total sample. Expected developmental trends were evidenced with the impact of family connectedness weakening with age and peer connectedness becoming more important for adjustment. Although older children were more likely to associate with an antisocial peer group, across the three cohorts, children's identification with antisocial peers was found to have only a minor, negative impact on children's functioning. While this finding runs counter to those studies that have found antisocial peer groups to be detrimental to children's adjustment, it may be that, within normative bounds, the affiliation established within these relationships outweighs the possible negative opportunities offered by such groups. Children's, caregivers', and teachers' views of children's adjustment were found to be weakly associated, with children reporting higher levels of maladjustment than caregivers. Children's views of family processes, compared to those of their caregivers, were more closely related to their adjustment reports. These results suggest the importance of understanding children's perceptions of events, and the impact their perceptions have on their functioning. The thesis makes a strong theoretical contribution as well as having implications for the prevention of and intervention with children at risk of adjustment problems. The empirical evidence regarding the centrality of family connectedness for children's functioning indicates the importance of interventions designed to enhance caregivers' parenting skills. These interventions should focus on promoting effective parent-child relationships and would be useful for families where there is some evidence of family dysfunction. As school is one of the few institutions attended by the majority of children, strategies that are designed to enhance the student-school bond are likely to improve the psychological functioning of younger people. These strategies may be particularly important for those at-risk children who are subject to on-going family dysfunction. Through developing a belongingness and connectedness to school and by identifying with the school ethos these at-risk children may indeed have a better chance of recovery than those who remain disengaged from their schooling experience.

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 15:52:43 EST