Friday, June 6, 2014

Child Trends Study Links Adolescent Variables to Successful Transitions to Adulthood

The research organization Child Trends has just released a report, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), on how variables assessed during adolescence presage the quality of one's transition to adulthood.

Predictor variables (assessed in Waves I and II, when respondents were in grades 7-12) included supportive relationships with parents, friends, and teachers; and religious involvement.

The behaviors that comprised the outcome categories -- "heavy alcohol use, illicit drug use, marijuana use, serious delinquent behavior, and serious financial problems" -- were not described until an appendix. At each of Waves III (which included ages 18-26) and IV (24-32), participants were divided via latent class analysis into "minimal," "moderate," and "multiple" problem groups.

Religious involvement and caring relationships with parents and teachers predicted membership in the least problematic group at Wave III, although a supportive relationship with friends during adolescence predicted more behavior problems for the focal participants. Perhaps closeness to friends led many adolescents into risk-taking behaviors with peers.

Finally, moving into a lower-risk group between Waves III and IV (i.e., into the mid-20s and early 30s), that is to say, a favorable transition to adulthood, was predicted by religious involvement and a caring relationship with teachers, as assessed during adolescence.

Concurrent correlations between high religious involvement and refraining from risky/problematic behaviors do not allow one to ascertain the direction of causality. It could be that religious involvement protects against problem behaviors, but it is also possible that well-behaved youth are attracted to religious involvement. The longitudinal nature of the Add Health dataset, however, has allowed the Child Trends investigators to show that religious involvement in adolescence precedes the low levels of problem behavior in young adulthood.