This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Understanding and promoting rural adolescents' psychosocial development in the context of a unique social milieu




Chan, Alexander

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Human Development and Family Studies


The need to belong is fundamental among human beings, and is associated with a variety of indices of wellbeing. Individuals can experience belonging in a variety of contexts. During adolescence, two of the most prominent contexts are the family and school contexts. Although prior research has explored the associations between indices of belongingness and a variety of socioemotional outcomes, fewer studies have examined links between adolescent indicators of belonging and outcomes beyond the high school years. Furthermore, fewer studies examine belongingness in rural contexts. Even less scholarly attention has been paid to the promotion of belongingness in rural areas for marginalized individuals. To extend inquiry on belongingness into rural areas and beyond late adolescence, the first paper in this dissertation examined two waves of nationally-representative data spanning ages 15-28. Specifically, we compared the links between urban, suburban, and rural adolescents’ experiences of belongingness and their downstream (young adult) economic and educational outcomes. Belongingness was operationalized in terms of two salient developmental contexts: school and family connectedness. Results revealed school connectedness as a consistent predictor of young adult educational and occupational outcomes, especially among rural adolescents. Building on the importance of the school as a social hub in rural areas, the second paper addresses the need to cultivate climates of acceptance in rural schools. The second paper highlights intergroup contact theory (ICT) as a particularly relevant model to address the need for belonging among marginalized rural adolescents – a model that has not yet been studied with specific attention to rural culture. We discuss the stratification of peer crowds and how this creates barriers to free social interaction, which threaten normal psychosocial development for those at the margins. This may be particularly problematic in rural areas with fewer social niches available. Next, we discuss the nuances of satisfying the initial conditions of ICT, addressing both challenges to and opportunities for its successful application in a rural community. Finally, we integrate and extend prior work by contending that ICT can be applied in rural areas to promote developmental assets among marginalized rural youth. The result is a theoretically and empirically-grounded model for use by researchers and practitioners in the study of an intervention with marginalized rural youth. Taken together, both papers represent initial steps into understanding and promoting belongingness among adolescents in the understudied context of rural communities.