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Adolescent Social Initiative: Antecedents in the

Ecology of Social Connections


Brian K. Barber
University of Tennessee
Lance D. Erickson
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
This article reports on an investigation of adolescent social
initiative, a particular form of adolescent social competence.
Specifically, the study explored the extent to which variations in
this form of social competence can be understood as a function
of the history of interpersonal relationships in the lives of
adolescents. The sample (N= 750) consisted of two age
cohorts (ages 11-13 and 14-17) that were assessed annually
for 3 consecutive years (1995-1997) by way ofamailed selfreport survey. Findings indicated that positive aspects of the
parent-adolescent relationship (support, behavioral control)
measured 2 years previous predicted adolescent social
initiative directly or indirectly through the quality of
interpersonal relationship with best friend, school officials, and
community adults measured 1 year previous to the
assessment of social initiative and/or through adolescent
individual characteristics (self-esteem, antisocial behavior)
measured con-comitantly with social initiative. Although
significant variance in the change in social initiative across the
3-year period was accounted for in both cohorts, a larger set of
predictors was associated with social initiative among the
younger cohort, suggesting that the social identity of younger
adolescents was still dependent on their recent experiences in
a variety of social relationships, whereas the parental
relationship was the primary predictor for the older cohort.
This article reports on an investigation of adolescent social
initiative, a particular form of adolescent social competence
that indexes the degree to which adolescents initiate social
contacts outside the home. Specifically, the study explored the
extent to which variations in this form of social competence can

be understood as a function of the history of interpersonal


relationships in the lives of adolescents.
This study was supported by an NIMH First Award (R29MH47067-03) to Brian K. Barber. Appreciation is
expressedtothe administrators, teachers, and familiesofthe
Ogden Utah City School District for participating in this study.
Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 16 No. 4, July 2001 326354 2001 Sage Publications
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Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

327

There are several reasons why a focus on adolescent social


competence is important and timely in efforts to understand
human development and functioning. As children progress
toward and through adolescence, they typically are exposed
more frequently and for longer durations to a broader array of
social networks, as the predominant family context of childhood
expands to include interaction in social networks with peers
and in community and school settings. The successful
navigation of these new social challenges is an important task
of adolescence (Bartle-Haring & Sabatelli, 1997) that can equip
adolescents with the skills and confidence to succeed in later
developmental challenges (Luthar, 1995).
In support of the importance of adolescent social
competence, there is empirical evidence demonstrating that
social competence in children and adolescents is significantly
associated with numerous forms of functioning. For example,
deficits in social competence have been linked to unhappiness,
learning disabilities, conduct disorders, externalizing and
internalizing problems, and lower school performance, among
others (see McGhee & Williams, 1991, for a review; Finger &
Silverman, 1966; Levendosky, Okun, & Parker, 1995; Scheier
& Botvin, 1998).
Finally, a focus on social competence extends the important,
recent
cor-rectivetostudiesofadolescence
that
have
traditionally concentratedonnega-tive aspects of adolescent
experience (Youniss & Yates, 1999). This traditional attention
to adolescent problems has both overestimated negative
aspects of adolescent experience leading to perpetuated,
inaccurate
stereotypes
of
adolescent
competence
(incompetence) and, at the same time, has resulted in
insufficiently developed understanding of the competencies of
adolescence.
ADOLESCENT SOCIAL COMPETENCE

Social competence is a broad term that encompasses


numerous forms of social behaviors thought to be indicative of
adaptive, healthy, and productive social functioning. Socially
competent adolescents are those who, among other things,
are involved in their social worlds, have a sense ofsocial responsibility, act prosocially, are achievement oriented, are friendly,
are facilitative of others, are self-determined, and have learned
to balance their personal goals with the goals of others
(Baumrind, 1978; Crocenkenberg, Jackson, & Langrock, 1996;
Garmezy, 1971; McGhee & Williams, 1991; Pandina,
Labouvie, Johnson, & Raskin White, 1990).
This study focused on two specific forms of adolescent
social competence, both of which index the degree to which
adolescents initiate social

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JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT RESEARCH / July 2001

interaction. First, the study investigated initiative in


interpersonal relationships with peers and adults outside of the
home, that is, the extent to which adolescents seek out and
pursue social interaction with other individuals. Such social
assertiveness in interpersonal relationships has been a
common measure of adolescent social competence (e.g.,
Amato, 1989; Bartle-Haring & Sabatelli, 1997; Buhremester,
Furman, Wittenberg, & Reis, 1988; Levenson & Gottman, 1978;
Scheier & Botvin, 1998; Schneider & Younger, 1996). Second,
the study investigated the level of initiative in group interactions,
specifically, the degree of participation in school-based group
activities. Participation in formal social organizations also has
been a marker of adolescent social competence (e.g., Chung
& Elias, 1996; Crockenberg et al., 1996). By studying both
forms of adolescent social initiative, we were able to assess if
and how the antecedents of more private interpersonal social
competence differ from group social competence.
ANTECEDENTS OF ADOLESCENT SOCIAL COMPETENCE
SOCIAL CONNECTIONS
The search for antecedents of current levels of adolescent
social competence in this study centered on the interpersonal
history of adolescents. The presupposition was that current
social functioning is, inpart,aproduct of past (and current)
interpersonal, social connections. The extensive work in developmental psychology on the importance to childrens social
functioning of attachment relationships with their parents
(Ainsworth, 1982; Bowlby, 1969) served as an initial guide to
this conceptual framework. According to attachment theorists,
this transferenceofrelational competence isachieved through
the internal representations children make of their attachment
relationships
with
their
parents
(Bowlby,
1969;
Schneider&Younger, 1996). This working model of
interpersonal relationships then guides future relationships

(Ainsworth, 1982; Sroufe & Fleeson, 1988). Research findings


show clearly that children who have secure relationships with
their parents are more likely to exhibit higher levels of social
competence.
One important limitation of the growing literature on
adolescent attachment, however, has been the near exclusive
focuson adolescent attachment to parents. Although it is now
clear that parents remain a critical part of adolescent
experienceand, in terms of sources of social skills and
competence, parents may indeed be the most basic source
adolescents have interpersonal connections in a variety of
social contexts, all of which also may be instrumental in
shaping levels and types of social competence. Thus, enlarging
explanatory models beyond the family realm has the potential
for more

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

329

fully defining the degree to which relational history accounts


for current social competence. Theoretically, it also facilitates
the integration of key theoretical approaches to understanding
human behavior and functioning. Specifically, this approach
merges classic attachment theory with developmental
ecological theory (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1979) by recognizing
that critical interpersonal relationships occur in a varied and
complex set of social contexts and that it is the pattern of such
relationships across contexts and across time that will better
explain individual social functioning. It also allows for the
integration of more classic sociological theory, such as
Colemans (1988) theory of social capital, that highlights the
value of social relationships in providing critical personal
resources for individual functioning.
Accordingly, we designed a model that tapped relationships
with significant persons in the adolescents varied social
contexts as they are associated over a 3-year period with levels
of adolescent interpersonal and group social initiative. Time 1
social initiative was controlled in the model to ensure that we
were predicting change in social initiative as a function of prior
social relationship history (see Figure 1). Below, we briefly
discuss the components of the model.
Family (Parent-Child) Relationships
As is illustrated in Figure 1, parent-adolescent relationship
quality is the most distal predictor of social competence in the
model. This reflects the recognition that the parent-child
relationship is generally the earliest, most basic, and,
therefore, most influential domain of interpersonal connection
for children and adolescents. Although we had no measure of
attachment to parents when our subjects were young children
(i.e., when the parent-child attachments were originally formed),
we assumed that current levels of parent-adolescent
relationship quality reflect, in part, this early foundation of

attachment.
The basic finding from the work on parent-child attachments
is that securely attached childrenwho are distinguished from
other children primarily on the basis of the quality of parent-tochild behaviors they experience are different from non
securely attached children, most notably in the level and quality
oftheir sociability. Compared to other children, securely
attached children have been found to have more friends, be
more empathic, be more popular, approach others and
respond to them with more positive affect, be more selfconfident, and be more cooperative (e.g., Ainsworth, Blehar,
Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969; Sroufe & Fleeson, 1988).
Although there has not yet been adequate empirical validation
of specific adolescent-to-parent attachment measures
(Schneider & Younger, 1996), the growing

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Figure 1. Overall theoretical model explaining social


initiative.
consensus in the empirical and theoretical literatures is that
the same processes ofrelationship security and social
competence apply as well to adolescents (Rice, 1990;
Schneider& Younger, 1996). Basically, the thinkingisthat
through social relationships with parents, children and
adolescents develop values, goals, rules, skills, and behaviors
for conducting social relationships outside of the home
(Crockenberg et al., 1996; Scheier & Botvin, 1998).
The link between parent-child/adolescent relationship quality
and sociability in children or adolescents can be justified by at
least four (not mutually exclusive) theoretical standpoints. First,
most closely related to the attachment findings is the notion of
internal working models advanced by attachment theorists
(e.g., Ainsworth etal., 1978; Bowlby, 1969; Sroufe & Fleeson,
1988). Here, relationships are viewed as wholes (not mere
aggregates of parent and child characteristics) that have
continuity and coherence over time and that are carried
forward to other close relationships (Sroufe & Fleeson, 1988).
Thus, children who have relationships with parents that
contain nurturant, supportive, and facilitative characteristics
learn a supportive relationship style that they employ with
others.

Similarly, although less process (relationship) oriented, social


learning theory stipulates the same link. Many measures of the
quality of parent-child relationships index specific social
behaviors that are directed toward the child (e.g., smiling,
praising, spending time with, comforting, talking, being aware of
childrens activities, encouraging childrens expression of self),
all

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

331

of which, together or individually, could serve as a guiding


model of social interaction that a child would naturally imitate
as he or she approaches relationships with peers and adults
outside the family. In essence, children learn from their parents
example how to behave in social interaction. (See
Crockenberg et al. [1996] for a discussion of modeling,
classical conditioning, and internalization of parental values in
the development of childrens social competence.)
Third, symbolic interaction theory offers another plausible
explanation for the link between parent-child relationship
quality and sociability in children (for discussion and review,
see Rollins & Thomas, 1979; Stryker & Stratham, 1985).
Specifically, concepts of reflected appraisals and the lookingglass self (Cooley, 1902; Mead, 1934) are useful in advancing
the explanation that children use parental behaviors as
symbols of the childs worth and competence as well as
evidence that relationships with important partners are
trustworthy. Thus, children who are consistently nurtured and
supported learn to believe that they are trusted, competent, and
effective and therefore are more confident in engaging
themselves with significant others in their social environment.
Finally, family systems theory also potentially informs the link
between family relationships and childrens social competence
in asserting that effective families (e.g., well differentiated,
tolerance for autonomy, individuality, and intimacy among
members) assist in the development of childrens social
competence. Lack of clear interpersonal boundaries between
parents and children, for example, is thought to create
intrapersonal and interpersonal anxiety and emotional
reactivity that may leave children or adolescents with
interpersonal skill deficits or fear of interpersonal relationships
(Bartle-Haring & Sabatelli, 1991; Bowen, 1978).
Rather than rely on a global assessment of parentadolescent attachment or relationship quality as many studies
have done, we elected to test several discrete componentsof

the parent-adolescent relationship to contribute some


specificity to the understanding of how the parent-adolescent
relationship is relevant to other social experiences. The
selection of the specific indices was guided by recent work that
has synthesized the vast literatures on parent-child/adolescent
relations into three basic components: parental support,
parental behavioral control, and parental psychological control
(Barber, 1997; Gray & Steinberg, 1999; Steinberg, 1990;
Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989). In addition to these three
measures of the parent-adolescent relationship, we also
included a measure of the level of parent-adolescent conflict.
The growing empirical literature on parent-adolescent
attachment provides evidence that such differentiated forms of
the parent-adolescent rela-

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JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT RESEARCH / July 2001

tionship are relevant to adolescent social competence.


Specifically, recent work has indicated that children and
adolescents who score higher on indices of social competence
have relationships with parents characterized by secure
attachment
(Weinfield,
Ogawa,
&
Sroufe,
1997);
connectedness (males: Lapsley, Rice, & FitzGerald, 1990;
Youniss, 1983); less emotional reactivity (Bartle-Haring &
Sabatelli, 1991); positivity and less hostility (OConnor,
Hetherington, & Clingempeel, 1997); less father alienation
(Schneider & Younger, 1996); and parental support, autonomy,
induction, cohesion, and lower parental punishment and
control (Amato, 1989; Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Rollins &
Thomas, 1979).
Nonfamily Relationships
As fundamental as the parent-child relationship might be in
assisting in the formation of childrens social competencies,
there are other relational contexts, especially for adolescents,
that might also be linked with the development of social skills
and competence. To the extent that the working model of
parent-child attachment is valid, it is natural to expect
evidence of that transmission in childrens varied social
relationships. Like most studies on attachment and adolescent
social competence, we employed rather general (i.e., nonrelationship-specific) measures of
adolescent
social
competence (e.g., initiative in interpersonal and group settings)
as our final criterion variables. But unlike most studies, we
attempted to trace the origins of that overall social competence
in a matrix of adolescent social relationships.
Thus, beginning with relationships with parents as described
above, we assessed the degree to which the foundational
relationship with parents was linked to adolescent interpersonal
relationships with friends, schoolteachers, and adults in the
community and how each of these attachments were individ-

ually andasawhole relatedtothe overall social competence of


adolescents as indicated by the level of their initiative in
interpersonal and group settings. The same theoretical
justifications discussed earlier relative to the role of parentchild relationship quality in facilitating adolescent social
competence inform the role of peer, teacher, and community
adult relations. Each of these has the potential of directly
contributing to adolescent social competence by virtue of what
is directly provided to the adolescent through this relationship in
terms of heightened positive experience, trust, and the
development of social skills. Furthermore, if a working model is
actually operating, each of these connections can be expected
to be related to each otherand thereby serve as mediating
linksfor the impact of different domains of interpersonal
connections, particularly family connections, on adolescent
social competence.

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

333

With the exception of some studies that have tested the


impact of school experiences on social competence (Cauce,
Mason, Gonzales, Hiraga, & Liu, 1996; Luthar, 1995), there
have been very few explicit investigations of nonfamily
relationships on adolescent social competence, although
several authors have called for such models (Bartle-Haring &
Sabatelli, 1997; Weinfield et al., 1997). Ours was an initial
attempt to heed this call.
Individual Factors
Inafurther attemptto specify the processes underlying the
achievement of social competence on the part of adolescents,
we included two measures of individual functioning in the
model: adolescent self-esteem and antisocial behavior. Both of
these characteristics may serve as additional mediators of
social attachments and social competence. For example, one
pathway of influence may be that supportive and facilitative
interpersonal relationships in and outside of the family may
foster higher levels of self-esteem (Gecas & Seff, 1990),
equipping adolescents with the competence to seek out and
trust relationships with peers and adults. Similarly, unsatisfying
interpersonal relationships may encourage lower self-esteem in
adolescents, which, particularly if it co-occurs with depression
and other affective disturbances, may interfere with the
willingness or ability of adolescents to reach out socially
(Luthar, 1995).
Various forms of antisocial behavior may likewise be factors in
the development of social competence. Substantial research
documents associations between interpersonal relationships,
particularly with parents and peers, and levels of antisocial
behavior (e.g., Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Patterson &
Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984; Simons, Johnson, Conger, & Elder,
1998; Simons, Wu, Conger, & Lorenz, 1994). Antisocial
behavior, particularly adolescent substance use, also has been

linked directly to social competence (Luthar, 1995; Pandina et


al., 1990; Scheier & Botvin, 1998).
Summary
In sum, we tested across time the associations between four
domains of interpersonal relationships, two indices of
individual characteristics, and social competence in the forms
of group and interpersonal social initiative (see Figure 1). Most
distal in the model were four indices of parent-adolescent
relationship quality (1995), followed by measures of the quality
of relationships with best friend, teachers, and community
adults (1996), followed by measures of individual
characteristics and social competence (1997). Had a

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fourth yearof data been available,wewould have used data for


individual differences in a year prior to the year social
competence was assessed.
METHOD
Sample
Data for this analysis came from the 1995, 1996, and 1997
waves of the Ogden Youth and Family Project, a federally
funded, longitudinal, self-report survey of adolescents and their
families in Ogden, Utah. Data collection began in 1994 with
two, equal-sized (n = 450 per cohort) cohorts of subjects: one
cohort averaged 11 years of age (fifth grade), and one cohort
averaged 14 years of age (eighth grade). These cohorts were
composed of random samples of classrooms in the
metropolitan school district. Each was stratified to represent
Hispanic families, the largest ethnic minority in the city (15%). In
1994, assessments were done in classrooms via paper-andpencil survey. Insubsequent years, surveys were administered
and returned by mail. The first year of data for this project, 1994,
was not used in this study because measures of social initiative
were not employedinthat assessment. Retention rates across
the waves of data are approximately 80%, with no evidence of
bias in retention, with the exception of slightly higher levels of
LDS (Mormon) families retained. The sample analyzed for this
study (N = 750) was roughly equally split by sex of adolescent,
age of adolescent, and religious affiliation (LDS, non-LDS).
Measures
Social Initiative (1997)
Social initiative was measured with a 13-item scale from the
Monitoring the Future Study (Bachman, Johnston, & OMalley,
1993). Subjects responded on a 5-point Likert-type scale

ranging from 1 (never/almost never true) to 5 (very


often/always true). Factor analysis of the 13 items revealed two
factors indexing (a) youth efforts to initiate social interaction
with peers and adults outside the home and (b) participation in
group activities. The 4 items measuring Group Social Initiative
were the following:
1.
I actively participate in topic clubs (e.g., political,
history, honor society).
2.
I actively participate in the school newspaper or
yearbook.

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

335

3.
I actively participate in drama (e.g., school plays)
or music (e.g., band).
4.
I actively participate in student government.
Cronbachs alpha was .65.
Sample items from the nine items measuring Interpersonal
Social Initiative were the following:
1.
2.
3.

I enjoy doing things and talking with peers.


I share feelings and ideas with peers.
I am comfortable joking with teachers and staff.

Cronbachs alpha was .88.


Family Interpersonal RelationshipsParenting Variables
(1995)
Parental support. Parental support was measured using the
10-item Acceptance subscale from the revised Child Report of
Parent Behavior Inventory (Schaefer, 1965; Schuldermann &
Schuldermann, personal communication, 1988). Subjects
responded on a 3-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (not
like her [him]) to 3 (a lot like her [him]) as to how well items
described their mothers and fathers. Sample items included
the following:
1.
Makes me feel better after talking over my worries
with her (him).
2.
Smiles at me very often.
3.
Gives me a lot of care and attention.
Cronbachs alpha was .92.
Behavioral control. Behavioral control was measured witha 5item monitoring scale often used in family research with
adolescents (e.g., Barber, 1996; Brown, Mounts, Lamborn, &
Steinberg, 1993). Students responded on a 3-point Likert-type

scale ranging from 1 (doesnt know) to 3 (knows a lot) relative


to how much their parents really know (a) where you go at
night, (b) where you are most afternoons after school, (c)
how you spend your money, (d) what you do with your free
time, and (e) who your friends are. Higher scores indicated
higher levels of monitoring. Monitoring was used as the
measure of behavioral control because it appears to be a
particularly reliable and powerful index of family management
and regulation (Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984).
Cronbachs alpha was .87.

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Psychological control. Psychological control was measured by


the 8-item Psychological Control ScaleYouth Self-Report
(Barber, 1996). Subjects responded on a 3-point Likert-type
scale ranging from 1 (not like her [him]) to 3 (a lot like her [him])
as to how well items described their mothers and fathers.
Sample items included the following:
1.
things.
2.
say.
3.
way.

Is always trying to change how I feel or think about


Changes the subject whenever I have something to
Is less friendly with me if I do not see things her/his

Cronbachs alpha was .88.


Parent-adolescent conflict. Parent-adolescent conflict was
measured by youth reports of disagreements with their parents
over four specific issues. The precise wording of the question
was, In the last 12 months, how often have you had open
disagreements with your parents about each of the following?
1.
2.
3.
4.

How he/she dresses.


Helping around the house.
School.
Getting along with other family members.

Cronbachs alpha was .74. A 6-point Likert-type response


scale was used ranging from 1 (never) to 6 (almost every day).
Nonfamily Interpersonal Relationships (1996)
Peer relationship quality. Adolescents relationships with peers
was measured using a 6-item scale that measured positive
experiences with a same-sex best friend, rated on a response
scale from 1 (never) to 4 (every day). Sample items were the
following:

If you needed help with something, how often could


you count on this friend to help you?
2.
How often does this friend make you feel that your
ideas and opinions are important and valuable?
3.
When you do a good job on something, how often
does this friend praise or congratulate you?
1.

Cronbachs alpha was .84.

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

337

Community interpersonal relationships. Community relations


was measured by asking youth to describe the frequency of
contact they have with adult individuals within their community
(Sampson, 1997). Subjects responded on a 7-point Likert-type
scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (every day) as to how well items
described the frequencyof their contact with (a) neighbors, (b)
parents of friends, (c) church leaders, and (d) community
leaders. Cronbachs alpha was .66.
School
interpersonal
relationships.
Interpersonal
relationships in the school setting were initially measured using
a 5-item scale that tapped youth perceptions of how involved
their teachers were with their personal school performance.
Sample items were the following: How many of your teachers
1.
Believe you can do well in school?
2.
Are willing to help you if you need help on
schoolwork?
3.
Would be willing to help you if you told them about a
problem you had?
Responses ranged from 0 (none) to 4 (all). One of the original
items was removed in the final models because preliminary
analysis showed it was inconsistent with the other items.
Cronbachs alpha was .84.
Youth responses for all nonfamily relationship variables were
taken from the 1996 data.
Individual Characteristics (1997)
Self-esteem. Self-esteem was measured using the
Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965, 1979).
Subjects responded on a 5-point Likert-type scale from 1
(strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). Sample items were the
following:
1.

I am able to do things as well as most people.

2.
I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
3.
I feel that Im a person of worth, at least on an equal
plane with others.
Appropriate responses were reverse coded so that higher
scores corresponded with higher levels of self-esteem.
Cronbachs alpha was .90.
Antisocial behavior. Antisocial behavior was measured by six
items from the delinquent subscale of the Child Behavior
ChecklistYouth Self-Report (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1987).
Response categories ranged from 1 (not true) to 3 (very true
or often true). Sample items were the following:

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2.
3.

JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT RESEARCH / July 2001


I lie or cheat.
I steal things from places other than home.
I use alcohol or drugs for nonmedical purposes.

Cronbachs alpha was .79.


RESULTS
Bivariate Correlations
Bivariate correlations among all study variables for the full
sample are presented in Table 1. There were significant
associations in the expected directions between all predictor
variables and both forms of social initiative, with the one
exception of a nonsignificant association between parent-child
conflict and group initiative. In general, the positive indices of
the parent-adolescent relationship (support, behavioral control)
were positively related to social initiative, as were the
measures of nonfamily interpersonal relationships (peer,
school, community). The negative indices of the parentadolescent relationship (psychological control, parent-child
conflict) were negatively associated with social initiative, with
the one exception noted above. Also, self-esteem was
positively related to both forms of social initiative, and antisocial
behavior was negatively associated with both forms of social
initiative. The four measures of the parental-adolescent
relationship were significantly related to each other in
expected ways, and the three nonfamily measures were all
significantly and positively related to each other.Insome cases,
correlations between predictors and interpersonal social
initiative appeared stronger (e.g., for parental psychological
control, peer relations, and self-esteem) than between
predictors and group social initiative. In summary, the bivariate
correlations indicate that all variables in the model were salient
in predicting social initiative.

Structural Equation Analysis


The structural equation procedure AMOS (Arbuckle, 1999)
was used to test the full model. In conducting the structural
equation analyses, we exploited the key demographic
characteristics of the sample to assess the extent to which
findings were consistent for essential subgroups of the sample.
The sample was composed of basically equal numbers of
younger and older youth (sixth and ninth grade in 1995), males
and females, and non-LDS and LDS youth. Sample size did not
permit a full analysis on each of the eight

TABLE 1: Bivariate Correlations Among All Variables for the Full Sample
3

1. Parental support
2. Parental psych control
3. Parental behavioral control
4. Parent-child conflict
5. Peer relations
6. Community relations
7. School relations
8. Depression
9. Self-esteem
10. Group social initiative
11. Interpersonal social initiative
NOTE: Correlations .08 and above are significant at the .05 level; correlations .11 and
above are significant at the .01 level; correlations .14 and above are significant at the .
001 level.

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JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT RESEARCH / July 2001

subgroups that result from these breakdowns. Instead, we


decided to analyze the two age groups separately, in each case
testing for sex and religious affiliation differences. To reduce the
number of parameters to be estimated in these various
models, scale scores for all variables were used as single-item
indicators of the latent constructs. Results from the group
comparison analyses (males comparedtofemales and LDS
comparedtonon-LDS for each age group) are presented in
Table 2. The procedure was to compare the fit of a model that
constrained all parameters to be equal across sex and
religious groups (constrained model) to one that freed
parameters to differ by groups (modified model). The
modification index from the analysis of the constrained model
was used to select parameters to be freed in the modified
model.
In the first block of Table 2, coefficients are recorded for the
model comparison between male and female youth in the
younger cohort. The modification index from the constrained
model indicated that model fit would be improved by freeing
the association between parent-child conflict and peer
relations. By so doing, the modified model ( 2 = 73.183) fit the
data better than the constrained model (2 = 103.47), as
indicated by the significant chi-square difference between these
models, the higher Normal Fit Index (NFI) value,the lowerRoot
MeanSquareErrorofApproximation(RMSEA)value, and the
lower Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) value. Thus, it can be
concluded that for the younger cohort, the theoretical model fit
the data equally as well for male and female youth, with the
exception of the link between parent-child conflict and peer
relations.
The same pattern of findings was evident for the other three
comparisons in Table 2. That is, the theoretical model was
largely invariant across comparison groups, except that in every
case, freeing one parameter (parameters dif-feredby specific
comparison) maximized the fitof the theoretical model with the

data. The specifics of these differences will be discussed


below.
Comparisons Across Sex of Youth
Table 3 summarizes the unstandardized coefficients
associated with the significant standardized paths in the
structural model for the sex comparisons for both age cohorts.
The first finding of note is that of the 48 parameters in the
model, only one per cohort differed in strength or direction for
males compared to females. As mentioned above, for the
younger cohort, this parameter was the association between
1995 parent-child conflict and 1996 peer relations (.15 for
males; .10 for females). For the older cohort, there was
asignificant difference in the association between 1995 parental
psycho-

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341

TABLE 2: Fit Measures for Structural Equation Models


Predicting Social Initiative
RMSEAAIC
Younger cohort by sex
Constrained
.055291.407
.032263.183
difference
Older cohort by sex
Constrained
.043273.964
.032263.654
difference
Younger cohort by religion
Constrained
.034264.360
.009250.014
difference
Older cohort by religion
Constrained
.057291.767
.000246.949
difference
NOTE: NFI = Normal Fit Index, RMSEA = Root Mean Square
Error of Approximation, AIC = Akaike Information Criterion.
TABLE 3: Summary of Structural Equation Results by Age and
Sex of Adolescent

1. Family context and social initiative


Supportgroup
Psychological controlgroup
Behavioral controlgroup
Parent-child conflictgroup
Supportinterpersonal
Psychological controlinterpersonal
Behavioral controlinterpersonal
Parent-child conflictinterpersonal
2. Nonfamily contexts and social initiative
Peergroup
Peerinterpersonal
Communitygroup
Communityinterpersonal
Schoolgroup
Schoolinterpersonal
(continued)

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JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT RESEARCH / July 2001

Table 3 Continued

3. Individual characteristics and social initiative


Antisocial behaviorgroup
Antisocial behaviorinterpersonal
Self-esteemgroup
Self-esteeminterpersonal
4. Family and nonfamily contexts
Supportpeer
Psychological controlpeer
Behavioral controlpeer
Parent-child conflictpeer
Supportcommunity
Psychological controlcommunity
Behavioral controlcommunity
Parent-child conflictcommunity
Supportschool
Psychological controlschool
Behavioral controlschool
Parent-child conflictschool
5. Family and individual characteristics
Supportantisocial behavior
Psychological controlantisocial behavior
Behavioral controlantisocial behavior
Parent-child conflictantisocial behavior
Supportself-esteem
Psychological controlself-esteem
Behavioral controlself-esteem
Parent-child conflictself-esteem
6. Nonfamily contexts and individual
Peerantisocial behavior
Peerself-esteem
Schoolself-esteem
Communityantisocial behavior
Communityself-esteem
Schoolantisocial behavior
7. Nonfamily contexts
Peercommunity
Peerschool
Communityschool
8. Individual characteristics
Antisocial behaviorself-esteem

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

343

logical control and 1996 peer relations between males (.03)


and females (.16), but neither coefficient was statistically
significant.
Family context and social initiative. Direct associations
between the four indices of the parent-adolescent relationship
and social initiative are recorded in the first block of Table 3.
The only significant relationships were between 1995 parental
support and 1997 group initiative for older males and older
females.
Nonfamily contexts and social initiative. As indicated in Block
2 of Table 3, for both cohorts (and both sexes), findings were
consistent in that 1996 peer relations were associated with
higher 1997 interpersonal initiative. In addition, for males and
females from the younger cohort, 1996 community relations and
1996 school relations were associated with higher 1997 group
social initiative.
Individual characteristics and social initiative. As seen in
Block 3 of Table 3, 1997 adolescent antisocial behavior was
associated with lower 1997 group social initiative across age
and sex groups. Also, 1997 self-esteem was associated with
higher 1997 interpersonal initiative across age and sex groups.
In addition, 1997 self-esteem was associated with higher 1997
group social initiative.
Family and nonfamily contexts. As seen in Block 4 of
Table3,for the older cohort, 1995 parental support was
associated with higher levels of both 1996 peer relations and
1996 community relations. For the same cohort, 1995 parental
behavioral control was associated with higher 1996 school
relations. Finally, for the older cohort, the association between
1995 parental psychological control and 1996 peer relations
differed significantly by sex (.03 for males; .16 for females),
although neither coefficient was statistically significant. For the

younger cohort, 1995 parental behavioral control was associated with higher levels of 1996 community relations. Also for
the younger cohort, the association between 1995 parentadolescent conflict and 1996 peer relations differed by sex,
with the association significantly negative for males and
nonsignificantly positive for females.
Family and individual characteristics. As seen in Block 5 of
Table 3, 1995 parental support was associated with lower levels
of 1997 antisocial behavior for the younger cohort. Also for the
younger cohort, 1995 parental behavioral control was
associated with higher levels of 1997 self-esteem. For the older
cohort, 1995 parental behavioral control was associated with
lower 1997

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JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT RESEARCH / July 2001

antisocial behavior. For the older cohort, 1995 parental support


was associated with higher 1997 self-esteem, and 1995
parental psychological control was associated with lower 1997
self-esteem.
Nonfamily contexts and individual characteristics. As seen in
Block 6 of Table 3, no significant associations were found
between nonfamily contexts and individual characteristics for
the older cohort. For the younger cohort, both 1996 peer
relations and 1996 school relations were associated with
higher 1997 self-esteem, and 1996 community relations was
associated with lower 1997 antisocial behavior.
Associations among nonfamily contexts. As seen in Block 7
of Table 3, peer relations were associated with higher
community relations across both age and sex categories. For
the older cohort, peer relations were also associated with
higher school relations.
Individual characteristics.AsseeninBlock8ofTable3,antisocial
behavior and self-esteem were correlated significantly, but
mildly, across age and sex categories.
The standardized coefficients for these findings are
graphically depicted in Figures 2 and 3. Several additional
findings are apparent from these figures. First, seeing the
findings displayed graphically, it is easier (compared to studying
the tabled findings above) to note patterns of difference in the
models for the younger and older cohorts. For example, all
three of the nonfamily contexts (peer relations, school relations,
and community relations) are more integrally involved in the
model for the younger cohort than they are for the older cohort.
Thus, for the younger cohort, there are six significant paths
leading from these nonfamily contexts, whereas there is only
one for the older cohort. The same isalso true for the role ofthe
two individual characteristics (antisocial behavior and selfesteem). Although these variables function similarly across age

cohorts in their prediction of social initiative, they are predicted


bythe family and nonfamily contexts twice as frequently for the
younger cohort (six significant paths) compared to the older
cohort (three significant paths).
Second, there are interesting patterns of association
between the two social initiative constructs across time. Group
and interpersonal social initiative are similarly related in 1995
(.47 for the younger cohort; .46 for the older cohort). However,
this association reduces substantially for the older cohort 2
years later in 1997 (.13), whereas it is stable for the younger
cohort 2 years later in 1997 (.51). Furthermore, whereas the
association between 1995 and 1997 group social initiative is
similar for both age cohorts (.21 for the youn-

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL

Figure 2. Structural equation results for the prediction of social


initiative for the younger cohort, by sex of youth.

Figure 3. Structural equation results for the prediction of social


initiative for the older cohort, by sex of youth.
ger cohort; .28 for the older cohort), the association between
1995 and 1997 interpersonal social initiative is stronger for the
older cohort (.40) than for the younger cohort (.12).

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JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT RESEARCH / July 2001

Third, 1997 group social initiative was more frequently


predicted across the two cohorts (six significant paths) than
was 1997 interpersonal social initiative (four significant paths).
For both cohorts, the only predictors of interpersonal social
initiative were 1996 peer relations and 1997 self-esteem.
Group social initiative, on the other hand, was predicted by a
wider array of individual and contextual variables.
Comparisons Across Religious Affiliation of Youth
The pattern of findings from the group comparisons for LDS
versus non-LDS religious affiliation for both cohorts was very
similar to those reported above for males and females, and,
therefore, they are not reported here. The significant
differences between religious groups noted in Table 2 regard
the association between 1995 parental psychological control
and 1996 community relations for both age cohorts. None of the
coefficients were significant themselves, but the difference
across religious groups in the coefficients were significant for
both age groups. Specifically, coefficients for both the younger
(.19) and older (.17) LDS groups were positive, indicating higher
1996 community relations as a function of 1995 parental
psychological control. For the non-LDS groups, the association
was reverse (negative) for the younger group (.07) and for the
older group (.21).
Summary of Findings
The following list summarizes the key findings from these
analyses:
1.
Associations between group and interpersonal
social initiative: Group and interpersonal social initiative were
moderately correlated (.46-.51) when the youth were ages 11,
13 (younger cohort in 1995 and 1997), and 14 (older cohort in
1995) but substantially less so by the time the youth from the

older cohort had reached the age of 16 (.13).


2.
Stability across time in group and interpersonal
social initiative: 1995 group social initiative was mildly
predictive of 1997 group social initiative for both cohorts, but
1995 interpersonal social initiative was more strongly predictive
of 1997 interpersonal social initiative for the older cohort (.40)
than for the younger cohort (.12).
3.
Overall prediction of group versus interpersonal
social initiative: 1997 group social initiative was more sensitive
to variations in individual and social context variables than was
interpersonal social initiative.
4.
The role of individual characteristics in predicting
social initiative: For both cohorts, the individual characteristics
of 1997 antisocial behavior and 1997 self-esteem functioned
similarly in predicting both forms of social initiative.

Barber, Erickson / ADOLESCENT SOCIAL INITIATIVE

347

5.
The role of nonfamily interpersonal relationship
inpredicting social initiative: Youth 1996 interpersonal
connections with peers, teachers, and community adults were
significantly predictive of 1997 individual characteristics and
1997 social initiative for the younger cohort, but not for the
older cohort.
6.
The role of parental support in predicting social
initiative: 1995 parental support was the most important
measureof the family context for the older cohort, being related
both directly to 1997 group social initiative and indirectly
through 1996 peer relations as well as being related to 1997
group social initiative through 1997 self-esteem. For the
younger cohort, 1995 parental support was related to 1997
group social initiative through 1997 antisocial behavior.
7.
The role of parental behavioral control in predicting
social initiative: 1995 parental behavioral control was the most
salient family variable for the younger cohort, being related
indirectly to 1997 group social initiative through 1997 antisocial
behavior, 1996 community relations, andtoboth 1997 group and
interpersonal social initiative through 1996 self-esteem. For
the older cohort, 1995 parental control was related to 1997
group social initiative through 1997 antisocial behavior.
8.
The nonsignificance of other family variables:
Parental psychological control and parent-child conflict were
generally not meaningful variables in the models.
9.
The predictive association between parentadolescent relations and nonfamily interpersonal relations: The
family variables were not consistently predictive of the quality of
relations in the nonfamily contexts, with the exception of the link
between 1995 parental support and 1997 peer relations for both
cohorts.
10.
The lack of association among the nonfamily
measures of interpersonal relationship quality: Generally, there
were not consistent associations among the non-family

contexts.
11.
The lack of variation across sex and religious
affiliation of youth: The functioning of the predictive model of
social initiative was virtually invariant across sex of youth and
religious affiliation of youth.
DISCUSSION
Guided by a variety of theories that implicate interpersonal
relationships in the competence of individual functioning, this
study assessed the degree to which adolescent social
competence could be traced to adolescent interpersonal
connections in the family, peer, school, and community
contexts. Prior work that has studied the antecedents of social
competence has focused primarily on the parental relationship.
A key contribution of the present study was an assessment of
this broader social ecology of adolescent interpersonal
relations. The study assessed the extent to which relationships
with parents,

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best friend, schoolteachers, and community adults were


associated across time with each other and, most particularly,
how all of these measures of interpersonal connections
predicted the levels of subsequent adolescent social initiative
the degree to which adolescents initiate social interaction at
the interpersonal and group levels. Measures of adolescent
individual characteristics were also included in the modeling,
and the model was tested across age, sex, and religious
affiliation of the adolescent. Moreover, the models were tested
controlling for Time 1 social initiative; thus, the models tested
the change in social initiative over a 2-year period as predicted
by the measures of interpersonal relations in the various
domains.
The central finding of the study was quite straightforward:
significant proportions of variance in adolescent group and
interpersonal initiative were explained by the ecology of
adolescent social relationships measured 1 to 2 years
previously. Every domain of interpersonal connections (family,
peer, school, and community) contributed significantly to this
finding, both directly and indirectly through other interpersonal
connections and/or through measures of adolescent individual
characteristics. This central finding did not vary substantially
by sex or religious affiliation of the adolescents. The proportion
of variance in social initiative explained by the model (19% to
32%, depending on type of social initiative and subgroup of the
sample) appears to be nontrivial, given (a) that previous levels
of social initiative were controlled; (b) that other, nonmeasured
sources of explanation should be expected for such an
outcome measure, such as agreeable or extroverted personality types; and (c) the difficulty in adequately or accurately
measuring interpersonal social processes common to social
science research.
The general finding is consistent with a variety of theories
that explain individual social competence in part as a function
of interpersonal relationship history. More specifically, in these

data, it appears that interpersonal relationship quality,


especially with parents (attachment theory) but also in other
domains central to adolescent experience (ecology of
development theory), provides personal resources (social
capital theory) that assist an adolescent in engaging himself or
herself in either interpersonal or group social interaction. In
short, it can be concluded that in these data, adolescent social
competence is, in significant part, a function of the
adolescents prior interpersonal relationship history.
Having made this general conclusion, it is important to note
that there was not strongly consistent evidence in this study for
a working-models explanation of adolescent social competence,
an important aspect of attachment theory. Some measure of
the parent-adolescent relationship quality (either parental
support or behavioral control) was indeed related to
relationship quality with peers, teachers, and community adults
over time when looking

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349

across the models for both age cohorts, but these links were
rather sporadic. Furthermore, there were not consistent
associations among the quality of relations in the nonfamily
contexts. Thus, it was not apparent in the findings that youth
who had positive relationships with their parents were
consistently transporting those relationship styles into their
other social relationships.
Such an expectation for consistency, however, may be
inappropriate for at least two reasons. First, a limitation of this
studys methodology was that nonparallel measures of the
quality of social relationships were used. For example, the
measure of community relations was an assessment of the time
that youth spent with community adults, whereas the measure
of parent-adolescent relations was an assessment of the
degree of support from the parents perceived by the youth.
Thus, an absence of consistency in associations among the
social contexts could be explained in part because
noncongruent aspects of those contexts were assessed.
Second, the relationship partner(s) differed across contexts,
particularly with regard to the degree that youth had choice in
establishing the relation-ship(s). For example, the peer
relations variables was an assessment of the interpersonal
relationship quality with the youths best friend. Presumably,
youth develop best friendships by way of mutual selection
between the friends. The volition that guides the establishment
of this type of relationship may facilitate the transmission of
relationship style from the parent to the best friend realm,
either through a working models process or through the youth
using the behaviors they experience in relationship with their
parents asamodel for how they behave toward their best friend.
They may also select, in part, a best friend that exhibits some of
the positive behaviors experienced with their parents. Indeed,
the only consistent association across cohort models in the
present study was this link between parental support and peer
relations, a relationship that could be further explained in that

both types of relations have some level of intimacy to them.


Relations with schoolteachers and community adults, however,
are typically less voluntary or intimate on the part of
adolescents. Adolescents typically do not choose their teachers
or the neighborhoods that they live in. Thus, it may not be
reasonable to expect consistent relationship styles or quality in
these domains in which the adolescent is placed in a setting
and relates with existing persons in that setting.
The general finding that adolescent social competence was
predicted by antecedent measures of interpersonal relations
was qualified importantly by the age of the youth. This
developmental qualification may inform importantly on
understanding the development of social competence in
adolescents. Essentially, for the group that was assessed
between ages 11 and 13, levels of social initiative were
informed broadly by all domains of interpersonal relations,
especially the nonfamily domains. In contrast, for the group

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that was assessed between ages14 and 16, social initiative was
only informed by earlier relations with parents. This may indicate
that by the age of 16, adolescents have already formed a rather
durable social personality that is less sensitive to or
dependent on variations in the matrix of their other social relationships (but, interestingly, continually informed by their key
relationship with parents). For younger adolescents,onthe other
hand, social identity may still be in the process of formation and
therefore may fluctuate more in accordance with the
realitiesoftheir social interactionin the many domains of their
lives.
Other evidence in this study might also reinforce this
developmental picture of social competence formation. For the
younger cohort, the two forms of social initiative were
substantially correlated (.51), suggesting that for the younger
adolescents, interpersonal social assertiveness was tied to
some degree with their involvement in structured, group, social
activity. This association was substantially lower for the older
cohort (.13), perhaps reflecting again the more independent
social identity that has been formed by the older ages.
Furthermore, the independence of older adolescent social
identity is suggested in the stability across time of
interpersonal social initiative (.40) for the older cohort,
compared to the less stable association for the younger cohort
(.12).
Regarding the distinction between the two forms of social
competence, more variance was explained in interpersonal
social initiative than in group social initiative, but each form of
social initiative was predicted by all domains of interpersonal
relationship history. The reason for this was likely because the
predictor variables were mostly also measures of interpersonal
relationshipsthus, sensibly, relationship quality predicted
later relational competence. Also, however, the limited variance
explained in group social initiative could be attributed to the
more restricted nature of the group social initiative measure.

Thus, participation in groups measured in this study (e.g.,


student government, topic clubs, drama, yearbook), as opposed
to the more general measure of interpersonal initiative, may be
limited by factors such as personal preference or limited
availability to the adolescents of such groups.
Finally, the salience of the parent-adolescent relationship in
the models for both age cohorts attests to the durability of this
basic interpersonal relationship to adolescent functioning. This
is most evident in the direct association between parental
support and group social initiative for the older cohort but also
in the many indirect effects emanating from parental support
and behavioral control to social competence. The one indirect
effect of parental psychological control on interpersonal social
initiative through lowered self-esteem for the older cohort is
consistentin nature with the recent work on

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351

psychological control, but it is a solitary finding. For the other


negative measure of the parent-adolescent relationship
(parent-child conflict), there was similarly only one significant
finding. Thus, in these data, it was clearly the positive
measures of the parent adolescent relationship that informed
adolescent functioning. Although parental support and
behavioral control are distinct aspects of the parent-child
relationship (one of connection and the other of regulation),
they are intercorrelated, and at the broader conceptual level,
both may be measures of parental involvement. Such
investment in children both forms of which involve positive
interpersonal interaction and the teaching, modeling, and
encouragement these interactions communicateseems to be
one source of adolescent sociability outside the home.
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relations. In W. F. Overton (Ed.), The relationship between
social and cognitive development (pp. 201-227). Hillsdale, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum.
Youniss, J., & Yates, M. (1999). Introduction: International
perspectives on the roots of civic identity. In M. Yates & J.
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Cambridge University Press.
Brian K. Barber is currently on the faculty of the Department of
Child and Family Studies at the University of Tennessee.
Previously, he held faculty positions in departments of
sociology, psychology, and child and family studies at Brigham
Young University, the University of Utah, and the University of
Tennessee. His research interests center on the social contexts
of adolescent development and how the role of these contexts
do and do

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not vary across culture, ethnicity, and nationality in the


Americas, Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Asia.
Lance D. Erickson is a doctoral student in the Department of
Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He
recently finished his masters degree in sociology at Brigham
Young University. His thesis was atheoretical and empirical
analysis of parental monitoring of adolescents.