The unique and moderating effects of religious, family and school connectedness on early adolescent adjustment
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Parent-adolescent connection is considered a core parenting component influencing adolescent psychosocial development. When the connection is poor, the adolescent has an increased risk of developing depressive symptoms and behavioral problems. Non-family socialization experiences increase in importance as the quality of family experiences decreases and may protect adolescents with low family connectedness from demonstrating depressive symptoms and behavioral problems. The school is one context that may provide socialization experiences to promote continued development for early adolescents. Stronger levels of connection to the school have been related to decreased prevalence of adolescent problem behaviors such as delinquency. The religious community represents another context in which early adolescents may develop important connections. This context is particularly important to study as over half of all adolescents in the U.S. report attending church services weekly and/or are involved in a church youth group and approximately 60% of adolescents report their faith is important to them. Research examining adolescent feelings of connection to their religious group and how this relates to delinquent behaviors and depressive symptoms, however, is lacking. The present study explored the cross-sectional contribution of adolescent connections to the family, school and religious contexts to the depressive symptoms and delinquent behaviors of a sample of 167 middle school students. Three aspects of religious connectedness (i.e., youth leader, congregation member, and spiritual connectedness) were found to uniquely contribute to the occurrence of early adolescent outcomes. Specifically, youth leader and spiritual connectedness uniquely contributed to early adolescent engagement in more serious delinquent behaviors. Congregation member and spiritual connectedness contributed to the occurrence of early adolescent depressive symptoms. Additionally, all three types of religious connectedness buffered the relationship between family connectedness and more serious delinquent behaviors. That is, high levels of religious connectedness protected early adolescents from engaging in the problem behaviors. Unexpectedly, an exacerbating relationship was demonstrated between school connectedness and youth leader connectedness as well as spiritual connectedness on early adolescent less serious delinquent behaviors. Findings are discussed from the perspectives of Social Control Theory and Attachment Theory.