The findings from this study with a sample of community-dwelling youth in an under-resourced urban setting indicate that family matters. Family functioning had the strongest influence on PYD in the context of all the different types of CVE. Healthier family functioning was consistently associated with higher PYD. Our findings confirm the existing literature indicating that parental communication, parental concern, and parental supervision support resilience in youth exposed to violence [13
], though are contrary to those showing family support is not protective in youth exposed to CVE [24
]. Family functioning in our study, however, was assessed not just in reference to parents, but was based on the way that youth self-defined family.
The gender interactions in the models highlight that family is important for both girls and boys but in different ways. First, for girls, having a mother in the home was associated with significantly better outcomes than boys. Other studies also demonstrate that mothers are important for girls in urban environments, as a protective influence in their lives [38
]. Mothers can play a role in protection from harm and preparation for independence, which can change over the developmental course of adolescence [39
]. The interplay of these two roles illuminates how mothers are important not just in protecting against negative outcomes for girls, but in augmenting healthy development. Second, for boys, unhealthy family functioning was associated with significantly lower PYD than girls with unhealthy family functioning. The findings suggest that for boys, it is not necessarily the presence of a parental figure in the home, but instead the global family dimensions of problem solving, communication, roles, affective responsiveness, affective involvement, and behavior control that influence outcomes. Previous studies investigating family phenomena (e.g., family support) and gender differences associated with CVE and youth outcomes indicates complex relationships [40
]. Our study adds a unique examination of the gender differences in the perspective of PYD. Overall, the structural component of parental presence and the functional component of family functioning are both important in different ways for the youth in our sample.
The reports of CVE in this sample youth are consistent with external data indicating high levels of community violence in W/SW Philadelphia, and with previous literature detailing the high proportion of youth exposed to community violence in urban settings [42
]. The data on different types of CVE provide detailed information on proximal and distal exposure to violence in the community. As expected, youth reported hearing about community violence the most, followed by witnessing and more proximally direct victimization. In this sample, youth reported roughly the same proportions of the different types of CVE as other published studies with youth in urban settings [35
The mean score (69.97) for PYD in this sample of predominately African American youth living in violent, urban environments was similar to scores reported in previous studies. Mean scores for youth in grades 5th-8th (around 10–13 years old) have been reported as 69.1–75.9, with older youth having lower scores [20
]. In our urban youth, there was no significant relationship between age and PYD. Consistent with previous reports, however, girls in this sample reported higher PYD than boys [46
]. Studies using the Measure of the 5 Cs and PYD from the 4
-H Study of PYD
come from youth with geographic and socioeconomic diversity, but with a small percentage of African American youth (<10%). The findings from our study with predominately African American youth suggest the generalizability of PYD across race as well.
Future research in this area should examine better delineated knowledge of parental presence in the home. For parental presence, this study only considered yes/no answers to mother in the home and father in the home. Information specific to the roles that mothers, fathers, and other adult guardians play for youth would help provide a better understanding to parental/guardian roles in the relationship between CVE and PYD. The relationships between parents/guardians who live in the home and youth can be an important domain to target in an intervention. Therefore, more precise data on who and how youth self-define family would provide richer information on the contextual nature of presence of parents or guardians in the home and how youth see these individuals in regards to their self-definition of family and family functioning. This interplay and relationship to PYD would add knowledge to the literature.
Interpreting the findings should take into consideration the limitations. Convenience sampling may have introduced increased threats of bias in our study, but examining a fairly homogenous population and not generalizing beyond that population can reduce the threat [47
]. The convenience sample of youth was drawn from places in the community including community centers, libraries, parks, and fast food restaurants. Youth involved in community organizations could have more support structures than those not involved in programs, and recruiting from community organizations could limit the generalizability of the results. This is less likely given our broad attempts to recruit youth from a variety of settings where they are likely to hang out (e.g., basketball courts and fast food restaurants). The cross-sectional nature of this study also leaves the temporal sequence of events unclear. Youth with lower PYD may be at risk for increased likelihood of CVE. Likewise, youth with higher PYD may be more likely to contribute to the overall health of the family.
The strength of the bivariate correlation between family functioning and PYD and variance accounted for in the regression models begs the question: Are family functioning and PYD the same? We thoughtfully examined this by creating a “PYD score without connection to family” by removing items from the measure that related to family, and used it in some exploratory analysis. The mean score of “PYD score without connection to family” was not significantly different than the mean of the original PYD. The results from correlations and regression analyses using “PYD without connection to family” were relatively similar to the results from the original PYD score, with small variations in P-values across P ≤ .05 and P ≥ .05 for the interaction term of family functioning and gender in the models. These exploratory analyses supported the use of the original PYD score in the analyses.
Implications for the Community
This study focused on PYD to expand our understanding beyond negative aspects of youth development to those valued as positive. The findings from this study can contribute to the design and content of a community-based intervention for youth in violent environments. Undoubtedly, it speaks to the importance of positive outcomes in youth. PYD, as measured in this study, encompassed many facets of development, including social conscience, valuing diversity, behavior, self-worth, caring, connection to others, and school achievement. These dimensions are indicators of youth health and development, and are important to community members. It moves beyond using outcomes from a deficit perspective. Parents and community leaders in the neighborhoods where this study took place have spoken to the importance of addressing positive outcomes for youth in their community, such as youth planning for college, kids going to church, increased school attendance, and kids helping around the house [48
]. The underlying approach of viewing youth from this positive perspective can set a foundation for healthy development.
Clearly, family is important to PYD in violent environments. Targeting family in an intervention is beneficial in augmenting health outcomes for youth in violence environments. Structural components of family (e.g., who lives in the home) are more difficult or impossible to modify, whereas family functioning can actually be a point of intervention to improve youth outcomes. Involving family as self-defined by the youth, in an intervention could help foster youth development. Community-based programs can capitalize on the importance of family processes by targeting not just youth in prevention programs, but also by building support systems and interventions for the family unit. Building evidenced-based programs for parents/guardians in community based settings has great potential for the future outcomes of youth living in violent environments. For girls, dyads of mothers and daughters can be specifically sought out. In the area of family, education in the community would be a strong arena for health promotion. Communication through community settings, newsletters, websites, and school nurses with information on the importance of family to outcomes in violent environment and tips on how to increase the overall health of the family through dimensions such as communication and problem solving are areas to target.