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Healthy youth development: the role of youth assets

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(Dissertation) Ph.D.
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Much of the literature investigating adolescent health focuses on risk and problem behaviours and factors related to risk reduction. Recently, however, there has been increasing interest in identifying factors related to the positive aspects of adolescent health and development as opposed to the absence of risk. The current research extends this recent work by examining the relationship between youth assets and positive indicators of health and well-being among 30,588 adolescents in British Columbia using the Adolescent Health Survey III. The youth assets measures consist of family connectedness, parental presence at home, teacher connectedness, school belonging, perceived competence, peer influences, other adult support, religiosity, volunteerism, and extra-curricular activities. Positive indicators of health and well-being include perceived health status, physical activity, academic achievement, seatbelt use, and bicycle helmet use. The results indicate that adolescents who possessed more youth assets had more positive outcomes than those with fewer assets. All possible subsets regression analyses revealed that the best subsets of youth assets predictors for perceived health, academic achievement, seatbelt use and bicycle helmet use included all 13 youth assets, further supporting the cumulative effect of assets on health outcomes. The regression analyses conducted on physical activity produced a 12 predictor best subset of youth assets that excluded parental presence at bedtime. The most consistent predictor of each positive indicator or health and well-being was family connectedness. Adolescents’ relationship to school (either in terms of school belonging or connectedness to teachers) also emerged as a consistent predictor for each positive health outcome. In contrast to the research on risk and resilience, other adult support was not a consistent predictor of any of the outcome measures in the current study. In general, the results did not differ by grade level. These findings suggest that connections to family and school are important for healthy youth development. However, these connections alone are not sufficient. Adolescents need a broad array of youth assets such as connections to the community (i.e., volunteering and extracurricular activities) in order to achieve the most successful outcomes.
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