What is the impact of social support on youth coping effectiveness in the context of urban poverty?

Reife, I., Duffy, S., & Grant, K. E. (2019, July 22). The Impact of Social Support on Adolescent Coping in the Context of Urban Poverty. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000296

Summarized by Jeremy Astesano

Notes of Interest: The authors of this study were interested in the impact of stressors on low-income urban youth and the coping strategies they used to deal with them. They were further interested in the role of social support and whether the presence or absence of adult support could increase or decrease the effectiveness of their coping. Through conducting qualitative interviews and administering several self- and parent-report measures about life circumstances and psychological symptoms, the authors were able to elucidate predictive relationships between coping strategies and outcomes. The authors observed a variety of coping strategies from this sample, and found that almost one third of the participants did not report having adult coping support in their life. The authors note that this is consistent with the literature on how urban poverty may limit access to adequate social support systems.

Some of the coping themes/strategies noted were: avoidant, such as staying away from the stressor, reframing, building resources or pursuing goals (creating habits and infrastructure to avoid problems in the future), doing right (having integrity and living by one’s own values), seeking help from others, expressing oneself, problem solving, and a number of other strategies. When adult support was present, youth were able to benefit from coping strategies like expressing oneself, self-soothing, seeking help, and seeking safety, presenting fewer psychological symptoms. In contrast, youth without adult coping support didn’t seem to benefit from strategies that are typically helpful, even showing increased psychological symptom levels associated with some coping approaches (such as distraction and problem-solving). These results suggest that the benefit of some coping strategies in the context of urban poverty can only be fully realized with the presence of strong adult social support.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study used a mixed method, prospective, multi-informant design to (a) identify coping strategies used by youth residing in urban poverty and (b) test whether these coping strategies buffer the effects of stress exposure when adult support is present and when absent. Method: There were 286 youth ages 10 to 16 (mean age at Time 1 13; 65% female; 34% male; 1% not identified; 46% African American; 25% Latino; 11% European American; 8% Asian American, 4% Mixed/Biracial, 6% Other) and their parents who participated. Thematic analyses were used to code adolescent interviews about protective factors to identify specific coping strategies used. Hierarchical regression analyses tested whether these coping strategies moderate the association between stress exposure and psychological symptoms for youth with and without adult support. Results: Youth identified multiple coping strategies as protective including Expressing Oneself, Self-Soothing, Seeking Help, Seeking Safety, Distraction, Problem-Solving, Self-Care, and Avoidance. A number of these coping strategies (Expressing Oneself, Self-Soothing, Seeking Help, and Seeking Safety) attenuated the association between stressors and psychological symptoms over time for youth with adult support. For youth without adult support, a number of the strategies they identified as protective (Distraction, Problem-Solving, and Self-Care) accentuated the association between stress exposure and psychological symptoms over time. The only strategy that proved protective for youth without adult support was avoidance. Conclusions: Findings suggest that youth require adult support to effectively make use of a range of coping strategies and that avoidance is the sole effective strategy for youth without support.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Results generally support our hypotheses with some unexpected exceptions. First, the low-income urban youth in our sample generated a range of coping strategies that mostly map onto existing conceptualizations with some potentially unique to this population. In particular, the Avoid Theme fits neatly within the most well validated and commonly used conceptualizations of Avoidance and Disengagement Coping (Ayers et al., 1996; Connor-Smith et al., 2000). The Reframe, Express/Cathart, Problem Solve, Distract, and Seek Help from Others Themes also fit easily within the most well-validated and common designations of Active/Distraction/ Social Support Seeking/Primary and Secondary Control Coping (Ayers et al., 1996; Connor-Smith et al., 2000).

The remaining coping themes (Big Picture, Self Soothe, Build Resources/Pursue Goals, Self Care, and Safety Seeking) fit less neatly within these most validated conceptualizations but most are related in some way to other existing conceptualizations. For example, Big Picture has some overlap with Religious Coping on the COPE Inventory (Carver, 2013) and other measures (Skinner et al., 2003) though it is broader than these.

The same is true for Self Soothe and (a) Substance Use on the COPE Inventory (Carver, 2013), (b) Self-Calming on the Child Perceived Coping Questionnaire (Rossman, 1992; Skinner et al., 2003), (c) Sedation on McCrae’s (1984) modified version of the Ways of Coping Checklist (Skinner et al., 2003), (d) Palliation on the Stress and Coping Process Questionnaire (Perrez & Reicherts, 1992; Skinner et al., 2003), and (e) Drinking Alcohol on Laux and Weber’s coping measure (Laux & Weber, 1991) though the Self Soothe theme is broader than any of these. Similarly, the Do Right Theme has some overlap with Make Amends on the COPE Inventory (Carver, 2013) though it is broader than that construct. Additionally, the Self Care Theme has some overlap with Massage, which appears on several measures specific to medical conditions or pain (Gil, Williams, Thompson, & Kinney, 1991; Skinner et al., 2003; Walker, Smith, Garber, & Van Slyke, 1997) though Self Care is broader as well.

The one theme that did not appear among the 400 coping strategies identified by Skinner and colleagues (2003) was Safety Seeking. This theme fits conceptually with an active, engaged, primary control approach though it has a specific focus not represented on other measures and may be especially relevant for low-income urban youth exposed to severe and chronic stressors including community violence and police brutality.

Also consistent with our hypotheses, we found that a significant minority of youth did not report adult support for their coping efforts. Although most youth did identify adult support, almost one third of this sample (28%, 81 youth) did not. This large percentage is consistent with a large body of research that has documented the negative effects of poverty, in general, and urban poverty, in particular, on social support systems for youth (e.g., Evans, 2004; Sánchez et al., 2014; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Our final hypotheses that all identified coping strategies would be more effective for youth who also report adult support, and that active or engaged coping strategies would be, particularly, ineffective without adult support were only partially supported as discussed further below.

To access this article, click here.