Positive Youth Development as a Framework for Examining the Relationships Between Conformity to Gender Norms, Social Support, and Adolescent Mental Health

by Alyssa Milot

Institution: Boston College
Year: 2014
Keywords: adolescence; gender norms; mental health; positive youth development
Record ID: 2024928
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3805


The mental health issues of depression and substance abuse are a major public health concern in the U.S. The timing of the onset of depression and substance use is critical to the lifelong prevalence of these issues (e.g., Gayman, Lloyd, and Ueno, 2011). Symptoms of depression during adolescence are associated with major depressive episodes during adulthood (e.g., Pine, Cohen, Johnson, Brook, 1999). Alcohol use during adolescence has been linked to substance abuse in young adulthood (Griffin, Bang, and Botvin, 2010) and adulthood (Chung and Martin, 2011). Due to the influence that adolescent depression and alcohol use has on lifelong development, potential factors related these outcomes during adolescence are essential to examine. The Five C's model of positive youth development (PYD) provided a framework for the current study to understand how internal (e.g., conformity to gender norms) and external (e.g., social support) characteristics of an individual lead to the development of personal qualities of PYD, which in turn are associated with behaviors (e.g., depression, alcohol use; Lerner et al., 2005). A sample of 642 high school students from several Catholic high schools in the Northeast was utilized for the analyses. T-tests indicated that females report greater depressive symptoms compared to males, but no gender differences in alcohol use. Regression analyses indicated significant relationships between greater conformity to feminine norms and decreased alcohol use and increased social support and PYD. Conformity to masculine norms was associated with decreased social support and PYD. The current study expands the existing body of literature by including internal characteristics involving identity such as conformity to gender norms in the Five C's model of PYD and examining both the benefits and costs of one's gender, conformity to gender norms, and social support on PYD, depression, and alcohol use during adolescence. The findings suggest that gender, conformity to gender norms, and social support contribute to the adolescent outcomes of PYD, depression, and alcohol use, which have clinical and developmental implications.