Youth purpose: The importance of fostering other-oriented aims in parent-child relationships

Lund, T. J., Liang, B., Sepulveda, J., White, A. E., Patel, K., Mousseau, A. M. D., & Spencer, R. (2021). Parenting and youth purpose: Fostering other-oriented aims. Youth, 1(1), 2–13.

Summarized by

Notes of Interest:

  • The term “youth purpose” refers to goals that are either personally meaningful (self-oriented aims/SO) or benefit someone or something beyond yourself (other-oriented/OO).
  • It’s often associated with academic achievement, mental health outcomes, physiological outcomes, well-being, life satisfaction, and hope.
  • This study explores the relationship between parent-child relationships, OO aims, & SO aims development among adolescent girls from competitive environments.
  • Youth who either balance their prosocial goals and personal aspirations or focus on others have the best outcomes.
    • Youth with OO aims were more likely to trust and communicate with their parents than youth with SO aims.
    • Youth with long-term goals that included OO and SO aims also had better outcomes than youth with SO aims.
  • Three clusters were identified:
    • High SO–High OO (“Self and Other-Oriented Aims”)
    • High SO–Low OO (“Self-Oriented Aims”)
    • High OO–Low SO (“Other-Oriented Aims”).
  • The self and other-oriented aims cluster correlated with better psychosocial functioning.
  • Fostering close, trusting parent-child relationships are vital to promoting meaningful, other-oriented purpose throughout adolescence.
  • Parents have a significant impact on the messages and mindsets youth perceive.
  • Future studies on this subject need to assess how outcomes might vary for youth from less affluent and/or competitive backgrounds.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth purpose is defined as a life aim that is both personally meaningful and contributes to the world beyond the self. This study disaggregated other-oriented (OO) aims (i.e., purpose as defined as a life aim intended to contribute to the world) and self-oriented (SO) aims (i.e., a personally meaningful life aim without intention to contribute beyond the self) to examine the development of youth who evince various combinations of high and low OO and SO aims. In a sample of 207 adolescent girls, hierarchical cluster analysis revealed three clusters: High SO–High OO (“Self and Other-Oriented Aims”), High SO–Low OO (“Self-Oriented Aims”), and High OO–Low SO (“Other-Oriented Aims”). A MANOVA indicated that youth who reported higher levels of parental trust and communication were more likely to have OO purpose (i.e., “Self and Other-Oriented Aims” and “Other-Oriented Aims”) versus primarily SO aims (“Self-Oriented Aims”). The “Self and Other-Oriented Aims” cluster was associated with better psychosocial functioning.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Purpose is a predictor of numerous beneficial outcomes among adolescents from diverse contexts [20,23]. Possessing a purpose in life, with prosocial goals, may also serve as a protective factor against stress, with some evidence suggesting that it can buffer against the pressures associated with growing up in competitive, affluent communities [20]. The present study examined whether parent–adolescent relationship characteristics are related to different types of adolescent goals or aims among girls from selective private schools in affluent communities, where meaningful relationships and contexts may help or hinder the formation of other-oriented aims. Our results indicated that adolescent girls with purpose (defined as including “Other-Oriented Aims”) were more likely to experience higher levels of communication and trust in their relationships with their parents compared to girls who primarily endorsed SO aims (“Self-Oriented Aims”). Adolescent girls who have long-term aims that encompass both SO and OO aims (also considered purpose) also fared better than girls with strictly self-focused goals (“Self-Oriented Aims”). These results further extend our understanding of the different types of long-term aims young people endorse and the types of parenting practices that foster in young people an interest in pursuing goals intended to contribute to the world beyond themselves.

The current study found three distinct clusters of youth purpose, named “Other-Oriented Aims,” “Self and Other-Oriented Aims,” and “Self-Oriented Aims.” In contrast to the Bronk and Finch (2010) results, we did not find a cluster of youth with no orientation. The absence of this cluster may have to do with the characteristics of the current sample. That is, youth from high-achieving backgrounds may be especially likely to have goals for the future, making a “no orientation” cluster less prevalent. Other studies using Bronk and Finch’s methodology have similarly failed to find a robust fourth cluster of youth with no orientation [18].

Consistent with previous research, we found that youth who experienced positive parent–adolescent relationships also had OO life aims [4,14,32], although some evidence from international samples has found that adolescents with OO purpose report less support from parents [18]. Both parental communication and trust were associated with OO aims among girls in our study. Our results also align with evidence demonstrating positive relationships with parents among adolescents who endorse both SO and OO aims [18]. Moreover, although not statistically significant, girls who focused on SO goals reported relatively high levels of parent alienation. Taken together, these findings suggest the importance of parental influence in the development of other-oriented aims (i.e., purpose) among adolescent girls from affluent backgrounds. There also seem to be certain qualities in relationships with parents that foster purpose among adolescent girls [20]. Specifically, those with less conflictual, more open and supportive relationships with their parents tended to feel as though they could explore their own interests, rather than feel pressured to live up to their parents’ expectations.

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