More Than Risk? Examining Support in Serious Adolescent Offenders’ Friendships
Friends are an important source of social support for adolescents, but there is little research on how adolescent offenders’ friendships provide support due to the emphasis on risk factors in their friendships, such as the degree of delinquency. This two-study dissertation used a multi-method approach to provide a multifaceted perspective on adolescent offenders’ friendships. Study One was divided into two parts: part A used a longitudinal, multi-level regression to characterize the development of and influence on perceived friendship support for male serious adolescent offenders and part B, used a cross-sectional logistic regression to assess how perceived friendship support related to desistance from delinquency for male serious adolescent offenders. Data for Study One came from the Pathways to Desistance study, which interviewed youth adjudicated or convicted of felony or misdemeanor weapons, sexual assault, or property offenses. In Study Two, we used semi-structured, responsive interviews to explore mothers’ knowledge, perceptions, and mechanisms of direct influence on the friendships of their justice-involved sons. A total of eleven mothers with a son who had been adjudicated or convicted in the juvenile or adult justice system prior to age 18 in the DC metro area participated in Study Two. Findings from Study One showed that serious adolescent offenders reported high levels of perceived friendship support, which modestly but significantly declined over time. Black and Hispanic youth reported higher levels of perceived friendship support than White youth, but their trajectories of support were not statistically different. Higher levels of peer delinquency were associated with fewer perceptions of friendship support. Findings from Study Two indicated that mothers had varying degrees of knowledgeable about their justice-involved son’s friends. Some mothers had known their son’s friends since childhood and others avoided learning about their son’s friends. Additionally, mothers held diverse opinions of their son’s friends, even if their son offended with his friends. Finally, mothers engaged in multiple ways to directly influence their son’s friendships. The most common method mentioned was controlling which friends were allowed in their house. Results indicated that adolescent offenders’ friendships are nuanced relationships that cannot be viewed in dichotomous terms.
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