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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Friends as Academic Resources: How Friendships Facilitate School-Related Adjustment During Adolescence

  • Author(s): Lessard, Leah
  • Advisor(s): Juvonen, Jaana H
  • et al.

This dissertation consists of three studies that examine when and how friendships facilitate school-related adjustment. The studies rely on data drawn from a large longitudinal school-based study of ethnically and socioeconomically diverse adolescents from sixth grade to one year post-high school. Study 1 examines developmental changes in academic support from friends, relative to families, across the four years of high school, as well as how such changes relate to perceived college readiness at the end of high school and college enrollment one year later. Results from parallel process latent growth curve models indicate that friends can provide adolescents with the academic support to promote college-going confidence and enrollment, especially when such support keeps pace with the increasing school-related stressors across the high school years. Narrowing in from the academic support that friends in general provide, Study 2 examines variation in academic support across friends. Specifically, differences in friend support (i.e., academic and emotional support) are investigated as a function of friendship maintenance (i.e., new versus maintained friends), and as predictors of school-related affect (i.e., school belonging, school liking, academic identification and burnout) one year later. Multilevel structural equation models (accounting for multiple friends nested within students) demonstrate that friendship maintenance across the transition to high school relates to more positive school affect at tenth grade, in part due to higher levels of perceived academic support from friends (e.g., homework help, course-taking advice), but not emotional support. Study 3 builds on Study 2 to examine the achievement implications of another friendship characteristic – dissimilar friendship. Specifically, extending existing conceptions of cross-group friendships, I consider the academic benefits of cross-class friendship (i.e., reciprocal relationships between peers with different levels of parental education). Multilevel analyses reveal that associations between parental education and academic achievement (i.e., grade-point-average, standardized achievement scores and teacher-rated academic engagement) are reduced when students have at least one cross-class friendship at sixth grade. Together these studies highlight how adolescents’ academic adjustment is shaped in complex ways by their close peer relationships and provides a more nuanced understanding of the academic function of friendships. The findings advance our understanding of friends’ function as academic resources during a developmental phase frequently characterized by declining academic engagement and achievement.

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