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The effect of perceived parental involvement and the use of growth-fostering relationships on self-concept in adolescents participating in gear up.

One of the primary developmental tasks of adolescence is the formation of identity (Knox, Funk, Elliott, & Bush, 1998). However, this is a complex process that is compounded by social, cognitive, and physical transitions that begin in early adolescence (Hill & Hombeck, 1986; Peterson, Leffert, Graham, Alwin, & Ding, 1997). As adolescents learn to cope with these transitions, they may experience several changes in self-concepts and social relationships (Harter, 1990). In the process, they may try to find out who they are as they separate from their families, determine their interests, and their life goals (Santrock, 2001).

The constructs of self-concept and self-esteem are often intertwined during adolescence. Self-concept has been defined as the perception of identity and achievements, self-esteem as the perception of self-worth (Powell, 2004), and self-definition as the combination of the perceptions of self-worth and efficacy (Kuperminc, Blatt, Shahar, Henrich, & Leadbeater, 2004). These perceptions or self-beliefs can influence adolescents' ability to act competently (Bruner, 1996), and self-concept is the integration of these self-beliefs and the judgments of significant others in their lives (Bosacki, 2003). Parents, teachers, and peers influence adolescents' development of a sense of self (Banaerjee & Yuill, 1999; Wilkinson, 2004). Researchers have found that the quality of family relationships, friendships, and/or school experiences is associated positively with reports of self-esteem and negatively with reported depressive symptoms (Dubois, Felner, Brand, Adan, & Evans, 1992; Eccles, Early, Frasier, Belansky, & McCarthy, 1997; Harter & Whitesell, 1996; Hughes & Demo, 1989; Luster & McAdoo, 1995; McFarlane, Bellissimo, & Norman, 1995). Additionally, Way and Robinson (2003) reported that the interpersonal relationships within adolescents' school settings influence academic achievement, goals, ideals, and psychological well-being. These relationships can include the influence of school personnel (e.g., teachers, principals, tutors, and other staff) as well as peers. However, researchers agree that parents contribute significantly to school effectiveness and to students' success (Rosenblatt & Peled, 2002). Specifically, parental involvement has been one of the most significant indicators of school effectiveness (Rosenblatt & Peled, 2002) and psychological adjustment in children (Veneziano & Rohner, 1998).

In one survey of school administrators, parental school involvement programs were endorsed for their effectiveness in helping at-risk students (Johnson, 1997). In general, such involvement can include parents' expectations of school performance, verbal encouragement or interactions regarding school work, direct reinforcement of improved school performance, general academic guidance and support, and student perceptions of the degree to which their parents influenced their post-high school plans and monitored their daily activities and school progress (Fehrmann, Keith, & Reimers, 1987).

Research indicates that perceived parental involvement can help youth achieve higher grades through monitoring their daily activities, by keeping close track of their school progress, and by working closely with them for planning post-high school pursuits (Fehrmann et al., 1987). Furthermore, perceived maternal and paternal involvement contributes positively to the psychological well-being of adolescents (Flouri & Buchanan, 2003). The role of a strong and positive adult influence appears to be important to adolescents' evolving self-concept. Mentoring programs that offer social support, nurturance, feedback, and resources have been found to contribute to the development of positive self-concept in adolescents (Keating, Tomishima, Foster, & Alessandri, 2002; Turner & Scherman, 1996). In essence, adolescent self-concept is influenced strongly by relationships with family, peers, mentors, and communities such as schools. However, the characteristics of these relationships have not been examined to determine how they contribute to self-concept. In response to this need, the Relational/ Cultural Model developed by a group of psychologists at the Stone Center at Wellesley College offers a new paradigm for examining those characteristics in adolescent relationships (Jordan, 1995).

The Relational/Cultural Model differs from other developmental theories that focus on only one person in an interaction or on the nature and impact of psychological separation from others (Miller, 1988). From the relational development perspective, the goal of development is for the person to build their involvement in relationships so that all individuals in the intractions benefit. Through experiencing life in context of relationships, adolescents are provided with a sense of connection to others and discover a sense of value and self-effectiveness. These relationships or "sense of connection" with others are key to their psychological well-being (Jordan, 1995). Relationships are "growth-fostering," enhancing the psychological development of those involved in mutual interactions (Miller, 1988; Miller & Stiver, 1997).

This model was originally developed with females, but has been applied in counseling with males and females, couples, families, and groups who are experiencing a variety of issues (Bergman, 1991; Cornstock, Duffey, & St. George, 2002; Fedele & Harrington, 1990; Jordan, 1995; Miller & Stiver, 1997; Philipson, 1993). However, an empirical link between growth-fostering relationships and self-concept in adolescents has not been established. If a positive correlation between these factors exists, this link could provide a basis for counselors, school personnel, parents, and other professionals for developing interventions that promote positive self-concept in adolescents.

This article presents the results of a study that investigated perceived parental involvement and the use of growth-fostering relationships by adolescents who participated in GEAR UP. Additionally, differences between perceived parental involvement reported by parent and by child were analyzed.



Adolescents participating in GEAR UP at a college located in the Southeast, and their parents were asked to participate in the study. GEAR UP is a federally funded grant program designed to prepare middle school students and their parents for the process of planning for college, admission to college, and academic success in college (Hewett & Rodgers, 2003). Students are recruited from local middle schools and begin the program during the seventh grade. These schools are selected based on the school having a 50% or greater free or reduced lunch student population. In addition, students are nominated by sixth-grade teachers based on their potential to succeed in college. In addition, students

who were selected for the program had to meet the following criteria: attend one of the designated GEAR UP schools, receive a nomination from the teacher and/or school counselor, have no substantial discipline problem record, have the academic potential to be successful in working toward a post-secondary degree, have demonstrated appropriate oral and written communication skills through an interview and written essay, and have agreed to participate in GEAR UP activities.

Once selected and permission granted by their parents, GEAR UP students attend academic enrichment activities from seventh grade through their senior year in high school. At various times throughout the year, Saturday academies were hosted at the college to provide academic support and engage the students and parents in enrichment activities. For this study, participants were recruited during the first Saturday academy held for that academic year. This academy included the parents of the GEAR UP students; hence a majority of informed consent was obtained from the parents. In addition, parents completed the parent demographic form, which included the four perceived parental involvement questions. Demographic questionnaires and consent forms were mailed to 70 parents who were not in attendance at the meeting. Of those 70 questionnaires, only 3 were returned. Student questionnaires, including 3 different questionnaires, were completed during subsequent Saturday academies and activities conducted at the GEAR UP school sites.


A total of 78 matched pairs of students and parents completed the demographic questionnaires, which included the four perceived parental involvement questions. However, only 66 students completed all questionnaires in their packets. Thus the overall response rate for students only was 85%. Among the parents who completed the demographic questionnaire, 77% identified themselves as African American, 15% as Caucasian, 4% as Hispanic, 1% as African American/Hispanic, 1% as Asian American, and 1% as Native American. The mean age of the parents was 40 years. Approximately, 66% were married, 14% were single, 9% were divorced, 8% were separated, and 3% were widowed.

The majority (82%) of the parental participants reported having at least a high school diploma and some college education, with 8% having received a bachelor's degree and 3% having received a master's degree. In regard to income, 19% reported an income of $10,000-$19,000, 19% reported between $20,000-$29,000, 15% reported $30,000-$39,000, 10% reported $40,000-$49,999, 20% reported $50,000-$89,999, and 3% reported an income below $9,999.

Among the students who completed the demographic questionnaires, 76% identified themselves as African American, 14% as Caucasian, 4% as Hispanic, 3% as Asian American, 11% as American, 1% as Black/ Puerto Rican, and 1% as Native American. The mean age for students was 13 years, with approximately 56% identified as females and 44% identified as males. Approximately 58% were in the seventh grade, 19% in the eighth grade, 13% in the ninth grade, and 10% in the tenth grade.

The students who completed the Relational Health Indices were asked to identify specific types of growth-fostering relationships, such as the gender of a peer sought for support, type of mentor they sought for support, and a community group they identify with but which excludes groups of friends. The majority (54%) of the student participants chose a female peer while only 38% chose a male peer, and 8% indicated no preference. Community preferences for social support and identification included: school academic, leadership, or music group (32%), church or religious group (30%) athletics (22%), dancing and step group (9%), GEAR UP (5%), personal band (1%), and boyscouts (1%). Identified mentors included: specific family members (29%), teacher (6%), church official (4%), friend (3%), policeman (1%), and therapist (1%). Fifty-six percent of the students did not identify a specific mentor.


A demographic questionnaire was utilized to collect information from both parents and students. In addition to background information, four questions related to perceived parental involvement were included. Parents and students were asked to rate the four questions on a Likert scale of 1-Strongly Disagree to 6-Strongly Agree. The questions included areas related to students' education, social life, and level of involvement (i.e., could be more involved or involvement could make a difference in student's life.) Students also completed two published instruments: the Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale, Second Edition (Piers & Herzberg, 2002) and the Relational Health Indices (Liang et al., 1998).

Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale, Second Edition. The 60-item Piers-Harris 2 is a revision of the original Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale. It is a general measure of the respondent's overall self-concept and also assesses specific components of self-concept that include: behavioral adjustment, intellectual and school status, physical appearance and attributes, freedom from anxiety, popularity, and happiness and satisfaction.

For the scores to be considered valid for interpretation, the validity scores need to be calculated and reviewed (Piers-Herzberg, 2002). Fifteen Inconsistent Responding (INC) index raw scores are examined to determine if the self-concept score is valid. Raw scores for the Total and domain scores are calculated and then converted to T-scores and percentiles. Only the Total T-score was used in the data analyses for this study.

With this newer edition of the Piers-Harris, new norms were utilized and are based on a sample of 1,387 student, aged 7-18 years, who were recruited from school districts across the United States and closely approximates the ethnic composition of the U.S. Population (Piers & Herzberg, 2002). There was also a reduction of items from 80 to 60 from the first edition to the second edition of the instrument. Piers and Herzberg (2002) reported an alpha coefficient of .91 for the internal consistency of the Total score. To assess the validity of the Piers-Harris 2, interscale correlation analysis and factor analysis were conducted. The subscale correlations with the Total score had a range of coefficients from .76-.84 and indicate that each domain scale is a better index of general self-concept than of the particular components of self-concept as measured by the other domain scales. In the factor analysis, six factors with eigenvalues greater than one were reported. Through this analysis, the use of the Piers-Harris 2 domain scales to measure distinct aspects of self-concept was supported.

The Relational Health Indices. The Relational Health Indices (RHI) were designed to measure growth-fostering connections with peers, mentors, and communities (Liang et al., 1998). On the RHI, peers are close friends to whom individuals feel attached through respect, affection, and/or common interest, excluding family members. A mentor is not a peer or romantic partner such as a girlfriend or boyfriend and is someone the individual would go to for support and guidance. Communities are any group affiliations or relationships with whom the individual can identify that contribute to a sense of belonging and a sense of feeling that they are an integral part of that system or environment. All three of these areas were utilized in the study and consisted of 38 total items.

For each scale, a mean score is computed based on a 5-point Likert scale representing how the statement applies to one's relationships with a close friend, mentor, or community of one's choice. A mean score is computed for each scale to represent how the specific relationship fosters growth for the individual (e.g., a high mean score on the peer scale indicates that the relationship with the peer promotes the individual's psychological well-being.) For the purpose of this study, the peer, mentor, and community subscales were combined to provide the overall mean score.

Liang et al. (1998) reported Cronbach's alpha coefficients ranging from .54-.82 on the peer subscale, .64-.80 on the mentor subscale, and .77-.87 on the community subscale. The authors also reported the results of several concurrent validation studies using measures of social support, loneliness, depression, stress, and self-esteem. Results of the studies indicated that the peer, mentor, and community subscales had significant positive correlations with the construct of self-esteem.

Because the RHI was normed on women from ages 17-23 years, reliability and validity analyses were needed on the population utilized in this study. Furthermore, some of the items in the community and mentor questions were reworded to be more easily understood by the age group of the students. For example, the words "community/group" replaced the word "community." Based on a sample of 68 completed questionnaires, a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of internal consistency of .94 was calculated for the modified version of the RHI.

Convergent validity was used to examine the relationship among the three scales: RHI-Mentor, RHI-Peer, and RHI-Community. Scatterplots of the relationships between RHI-Mentor and RHI-Peer, RHI-Mentor and RHI-Community, and RHI-Peer and RHI-Community were constructed and examined. These plots show that linear relationships could be expected among the three paired RHI scales. The Pearson product-moment correlation was used to examine the statistical relationship among the paired RHI scales. All three paired RHI scales were significantly correlated (RHI-Mentor and RHI-Peer, r = .69, p < .01; RHI-Mentor and RHI-Community, r = .60, p < .01, and RHI-Peer and RHI-Community, r = .72, p < .01). The positive correlation of the three paired scales indicate that the RHI is a good measure of adolescent growth-fostering connections with peers, mentors, and communities.


Frequencies were computed for all demographic data. The primary research questions were examined using regression analysis. Pearson Product Moment correlations were computed to test three secondary research questions (see Table 1) and a matched pairs t test was utilized to compute the difference between parent perceived and child perceived parental involvement (see Table 2). Insufficient data did not allow for analyses for several different demographic variables. However, analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were computed based on the variable of student gender; no significant differences were found.

Effect of Perceived Parental Involvement and the Use of Growth-Fostering Relationships on Self-Concept

A multiple regression analysis was used to estimate the amount of variance in self-concept that can be accounted for by perceived (by the child) parental involvement, and the use of growth-fostering relationships. As shown in Table 3, all the variables accounted for a significant amount of variance in self-concept ([R.sup.2] = .30, p = .0001) and contributed significantly to the prediction of self-concept in the adolescents involved in the GEAR UP program. In an examination of the standardized beta coefficients, those of perceived parental involvement (standardized beta = .31, p = .01) and of growth-fostering relationships (standardized beta = .33, p = .007) appear to contribute somewhat equally to the prediction of variance in self-concept when each are held constant.

Relationships Between Variables. Pearson Product Moment Correlations were calculated to examine the relationships between perceived parental involvement and growth-fostering relationships, perceived parental involvement and self-concept, and growth-fostering relationships and self-concept (shown in Table 1). Equally positive (and significant) correlations were found between perceived parental involvement and growth-fostering relationships (r = .48, p = .001), perceived parental involvement and self-concept (r = .46, p = .0001), and growth-fostering relationships and self-concept (r = .48, p = .0001).

Difference Between Parent Perceived and Child Perceived Parental Involvement

To examine the difference between the parents' perceptions of their involvement and the children's perceptions of the parents' involvement, a matched pairs t test was used. The mean score for the parents' perception of parental involvement (see Table 2) was M = 4.86 (on a Likert scale of 1-6), and the mean for the children's perception of parental involvement was M = .461. A statistical difference was shown between the two means (t = 2.41, df = 76, p = .02), indicating that the parents were rating their perceived level of involvement as greater than how their children were rating their perceived parents' level of involvement.


This study examined the relationship among perceived parental involvement, growth-fostering relationships, and self-concept in adolescents who were participating in the GEAR UP program. The findings indicate that both perceived parental involvement and growth-fostering relationships contribute significantly to the variance in self-concept, with self-concept increasing as perceived parental involvement and the use of growth-fostering relationships increase. This is consistent with research that indicates that adolescents' development of self is influenced by peers, family, and significant others (Banerjee & Yuill, 1999.) In addition, it adds to the growing research on the importance of maternal and paternal involvement on a child's well-being (Flouri & Buchanan, 2003). However, the results indicate that the level of parental involvement perceived by parents and children do differ and may have an effect on the types of interventions that are recommended for parents.

Although genders of the students in the study were approximately equal, the majority of students reported choosing a female peer for a growth-fostering relationship. One explanation can be offered through the Relational/Cultural model in that women cope by sharing their experiences with each other (Jordan, 1995). In establishing these connections with others, women develop an ability to empathize with others and themselves in and out of these relationships. Hence, women may be empathizing with men who in turn are drawn to developing these connections or growth-fostering relationships with the women. Thus, the men or boys in this study may be choosing female peers for this reason.

According to the results, the top three growth-fostering community groups were school academic/leadership, church/religious, and athletics. Recent research supports the finding that school is a strong influence for adolescents and can be more of an influence than peers and family (Way & Robinson, 2003). However, church/religious and athletic group relationships are almost equally important in providing support for adolescents. Overall, group affiliation is important to the development of self-concept in that groups offer adolescents multiple opportunities to develop connections with others who have similar experiences in a safe environment. This safety is built into the commonality of the experience, such as being on an athletic team, singing in the church choir, or being in the school band.

Finally, adolescents in this study had some difficulty listing a mentor. Less than half of the participants named a type of mentor. Approximately, 29% listed a family member as their mentor. This result may not be surprising when the population in the study is examined. Participants were those who were participating in GEAR UP, which requires both student and parent participation. Hence, support from family and especially parents is often built into the program, and reporting a family member as a mentor would not be uncommon.

There are several limitations to this study. First, the small sample size did not allow for data analyses for specific demographic factors (e.g., ethnicity, age, grade level). Second, the use of self-report measures introduces the possibility of bias in responding to the questions. Third, the limited number of items used to measure perceived parental involvement by both parents and students may not be adequate for assessing this construct. Finally, this population was specific to one that was involved in a program designed to foster parental involvement; therefore, the results may be difficult to apply to other adolescent populations that are not involved in such programs.


Examining the characteristics of relationships that influence adolescent development of self-concept can be helpful to parents, school personnel, counselors, and other professionals dedicated to promoting positive self-concept in this population. The present study confirmed that perceived parental involvement and the use of growth-fostering relationships with peers, mentors, and specific community groups are related positively to adolescents' self-concept. Furthermore, the study attempted to examine the specific characteristics of those growth-fostering relationships. The findings indicated that female peers are sought for support more than males. This has implications for professionals working with adolescents on the development of empathy. Counselors may need to work more with males on communicating with other males in a mutually empathic manner. Additionally, more research is needed to examine adolescent female relationships to determine the level of mutual empathy that is provided.

The types of community/groups named in this study warrants further investigation. The majority of students named school groups as those in which they found support. This was closely followed by church/ religious and athletic groups. Because students are finding support in the school groups, school personnel should try to foster these groups. As students progress through school, the opportunities for extracurricular activities decrease during the school day. However, adolescent self-concept may be suffering due to the lack of opportunity to make connections within group settings. Research on the relationship between school group affiliation and academic achievement may provide support for facilitating more groups in the school setting.

In addition to examining group affiliation, more research is needed regarding the effect of mentorship on adolescent self-concept. In this study, the majority of students did not name a specific type of mentor. One reason may have been that they did not understand the concept of mentor. However, a second reason may be that they could not identify anyone because they did not have mentors. This has widespread ramifications for professionals who are working with adolescents. School and community professionals need to determine why adolescents are not identifying positive role models in their environments. Teachers, church personnel, athletic coaches, band and music teachers can influence this population, but are not being identified as individuals to whom adolescents can go for support. Based on the results of this study, it appears that adolescents are seeking support more from their peers in these groups than from the leaders of the groups.

Finally, the idea of perceived involvement needs further exploration. Results of this study indicate that parents and students perceived parental involvement differently. Although this concept needs to be researched with a more comprehensive instrument, the finding lends itself to some discussion. Research has indicated that positive parental involvement may involve the quality of the interactions between the child and parent more than the amount of involvement (Veneziano & Rohner, 1998). One explanation may be that parents may be rating themselves higher on perceived parental involvement when they consider the amount of their involvement with their child, and the child may be reflecting on the quality of those interactions rather than the amount. For those involved in GEAR UP, emphasis on the quality of parental interactions with their children may need to be included in the program. For example, workshops for parents during the Saturday academies may help parents learn the types of interactions that will lead to a positive self-concept in their children. In addition to program planning, more research on parents' and adolescents' perceptions of parental involvement is warranted in order to determine appropriate interventions to improve this influence on adolescent self-concept.

In conclusion, the results of this study add to a literature that supports the influence of parental involvement and significant relationships on adolescent self-concept. Due to the increasing social and academic pressures on adolescents, a strong sense of self becomes central to their decision-making ability. Extending research and interventions in this area will benefit adolescents and encourage parents, community leaders, and school personnel to be involved in the important process of self-concept development.

The authors thank The Citadel Foundation and Wendell Rogers and Stephanie Hewett of The Citadel GEAR UP program for support of this research.


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Renee N. Jefferson, School of Education, The Citadel.

Request for reprints should be sent to Donna M. Gibson, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, 263 Wardlaw Hall, The University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail:
Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, and Pearson Product Moment Correlations
of Participants' Scores for Student Perceived Parental Involvement
(SPPI), Relational Health Indices Total (RHIT), and Piers-Harris
Children's Self-Concept Scale-2 Total Score (PH2TOT)



SPPI 4.59 .82 -- .48 .46
RHIT 3.92 .63 .48 -- .48
PH2TOT 56.13 9.75 .46 .48 --

Note. Score ranges for Student Perceived Parental Involvement
and Relational Health Indices Total are 1 to 5 for each item. The
Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale-2 scores are standard

Table 2
Matched Pair t Test for Parent Perceived Parental Involvement
(PPPI) and Student Perceived Parental Involvement (SPPI)

Variable M SD t df p

PPPI 4.86 .50 2.41 76 .02
SPPI 4.61 .81

Note. Score ranges for Parent Perceived Parental Involvement and
Student Perceived Parental Involvement are 1 to 5 for each item.

Table 3
Multiple Regression Analysis for Student Perceived Parental
Involvement (SPPI), Growth-Fostering Relationships (GFR),
and Self-Concept

Variable B SE B [beta] [R.sup.2] Change

GFR 5.46 1.96 .33 .07 *
SPPI 3.59 1.40 .31

Note. [R.sup.2] = .30, df = 66, p = .000.

* p = .01
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Date:Mar 22, 2006
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