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The Role of Ecological Assets on Developmental Trajectories of Future Orientation

Thu, April 12, 1:15 to 2:15pm, Hilton, Floor: Second Floor, Marquette Ballroom


Future orientation is considered an intrapersonal character strength that helps youth chart their developmental course through goal setting, planning, exploration and commitment towards the future (Seginer, 2003). The development of future orientation may be increasingly important as it allows youth to adaptively tailor their behavior towards positive developmental trajectories. Indeed, future orientation has been linked to a number of indicators of positive youth development among adolescents and young adults, including positive affect and meaning in life (Hicks, Trent, Davis, & King, in press), self-regulation (Schmid et al. 2011), academic achievement (Snyder et al., 2002), and psychological well-being (Valle, Huebner, & Suldo, 2006). Given its association to positive development, identifying the factors that promote future orientation will shed light on the role of socialization in character development theory. Both character education and positive youth development literatures suggest that everyday experiences in the school context are likely to promote character strength development among youth. The current study examined longitudinal associations between supportive teacher relationships, school climate, and engagement in quality out-of-school time (OST) activities and the developmental trajectory of future orientation.
Using four waves of longitudinal data from youth ages 9 to 19, we examined associations between four ecological assets and the developmental trajectory of future-orientation. The current study included 5,315 socioeconomically and racially diverse youth (about 53% of whom participated at two or more waves) from three states. The cohort sequential longitudinal design allowed a single developmental trajectory of future orientation to be identified (McArdle & Anderson, 1990). First, separate linear, quadratic, and cubic latent growth curve models (LGCM) were estimated, and the unconditional model with quadratic effects provided the best fit to the data (χ2(41) = 71.27, p = .002, CFI = .94, RMSEA = .01). The intercept (B = 3.42, p <.001), slope (B = -1.15, p <. 05), and quadratic effects suggested that future orientation declined with age (See Figure 1). Next, a conditional growth model was estimated that included teacher support, school climate, involvement in quality OST activities, and volunteering as time-varying covariates (See Table 1). The model provided an acceptable fit to the data (χ2(600) = 1354.50, p < .001, CFI = .90, RMSEA = .02). Across ages, involvement in quality OST activities and teacher support were positively associated with future orientation. Volunteering was positively associated with future-orientation at ages 11 and 14-17, and school climate was positively associated at age 9 and 14 and negatively associated at age 19.
Rooted in RDS theory, the positive youth development (PYD) framework emphasizes that development unfolds as a result of dynamic relations between the individual and their surrounding contexts (Lerner et al., 2005; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003b). Schools represent an important developmental context for promoting and optimizing character strengths in youth. The current study extend existing literature by shedding light on the everyday supportive practices and structured opportunities provided in schools, suggesting that support from teachers and opportunities to engage in quality OST activities may buffer declines in future orientation across childhood and adolescence.