What factors correlate with Black youth intimate disclosure? New study has answers!

Rivens, A. J., Billingsley, J. T., & Hurd, N. M. (2021). Understanding Factors Associated With Intimate Disclosure Between Black Youth and Nonparental Familial Adults. Journal of Research on Adolescence. https://doi.org/10.1111/jora.12682

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • While youth undergo developmental changes during adolescence, many of them simultaneously become more interested in exploring their identities and relationships.
  • Black adolescents simultaneously face risk factors that can negatively impact their well-being.
  • Disclosure with supportive non-familiar adults might be helpful for Black youths.
  • This study explores which factors are associated with intimate disclosure between Black adolescents and non-parental adult relatives.
  • Four types of adult behaviors correlated with youth intimate disclosure.
    • Create a comfortable and welcoming environment
    • Check-in with youths about their needs and communication of availability
    • Be engaged while youth discloses intimate information
    • Providing support, relevant self-disclosures, and advocacy following intimate youth disclosure.
  • A majority of the sample reported engaging in routine disclosures (talking about school, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of daily life) throughout their adolescence.
  • Although Intimate disclosures weren’t as salient as routine disclosures, most of the sample stated that they disclosed intimate information with a non-parental adult.
  • Many youths in early adolescence disclosed intimate information with family members and non-parental adults compared to youth in middle adolescence.
    • Many youths in middle adolescence were more likely to disclose information on relationships and romance.
  • Future research needs to explore which variables affect the type of information youth disclose.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Self-disclosure is an important relational process during adolescence. Given that Black adolescents contend with developmental changes and contextual risks, they may stand to benefit greatly from disclosing personal information to supportive nonparental adults. This qualitative study explored factors associated with youth intimate disclosure among 24 dyads of Black youth and their adult relatives. Analyses identified four types of adult behaviors associated with youth intimate disclosure: (1) setting the tone for youth disclosure, (2) expressing interest in youth well-being, (3) supportive engagement during disclosure, and (4) acting on youths’ disclosure. Findings suggest that when adult relatives demonstrate interest and attunement to youths’ needs, youth may feel more motivated to disclose. Implications for adults interested in supporting Black youths’ disclosure are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In the present study, we sought to characterize the nature of Black adolescents’ intimate disclosure to nonparental familial adults, and investigate factors that may be associated with youth disclosing intimate content to their adult relatives. Analyses of semi-structured interviews with both youth and familial adults revealed that Black youth engaged in both routine and intimate disclosure when speaking to close nonparental adult relatives. In regard to routine disclosure, comparisons between early and middle adolescents indicated that youth

disclosed about most routine topics at similar rates across developmental stage. This finding suggests that Black adolescents of all ages may be generally willing to share their day-to-day experiences with adult relatives. For a few topics, a larger proportion of middle adolescents appeared to be disclosing routine information relative to early adolescents, which may suggest that middle adolescents may be more comfortable disclosing across a wider range of topics relative to early adolescents. This also may indicate that youths’ comfort with disclosing on any topic to adult relatives grows as youth age. In regard to intimate disclosure, a higher proportion of early adolescents disclosed about their interpersonal relationships with both family members and nonfamily members compared to middle adolescents. In contrast, over half of middle adolescents engaged in intimate disclosure about their romantic interests and relationships, whereas this type of disclosure did not occur among any of the early adolescents. Taken together, these findings may reflect a developmental shift where romantic connections become salient interpersonal relationships as youth progress from early into middle adolescence (Connolly et al., 2014; Montgomery, 2005).

When considering familial adult behaviors associated with youth intimate disclosure, the following four themes were identified only in dyads where youth intimate disclosure was reported: (1) setting the tone for youth disclosure; (2) expressing interest in youth well-being; (3) supportive engagement during disclosure; and (4) acting on youths’ disclosure. While these themes are consistent with characteristics commonly associated with close relationships, the current study furthers extant literature by honing in on the specific behaviors and practices of familial adults in Black youths’ lives. Our finding that youth disclosure was present when adult relatives actively created spaces where youth were taken seriously by an adult and encouraged to be themselves is consistent with findings from other recent studies on supportive relationships between nonparental adults and adolescents (Deutsch et al., 2020; Dutton et al., 2019; Pryce, 2012). In addition, we found that familial adults’ efforts to understand and validate youths’ perspectives appeared to be a contributing factor to youths’ disclosure. Moreover, youth and familial adults described an unconditional acceptance of youth and noted how adults’ nonjudgmental stance played a critical role in youth wanting to disclose about intimate topics.

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