Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 10, pp 2129–2142 | Cite as

Understanding Students’ Transition to High School: Demographic Variation and the Role of Supportive Relationships

  • Aprile D. BennerEmail author
  • Alaina E. Boyle
  • Farin Bakhtiari
Empirical Research


The transition to high school is disruptive for many adolescents, yet little is known about the supportive relational processes that might attenuate the challenges students face as they move from middle to high school, particularly for students from more diverse backgrounds. Identifying potential buffers that protect youth across this critical educational transition is important for informing more effective support services for youth. In this study, we investigated how personal characteristics (gender, nativity, parent education level) and changes in support from family, friends, and school influenced changes in socioemotional adjustment and academic outcomes across the transition from middle to high school. The data were drawn from 252 students (50% females, 85% Latina/o). The results revealed declines in students’ grades and increases in depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness across the high school transition, with key variation by student nativity and gender. Additionally, stable/increasing friend support and school belonging were both linked to less socioemotional disruptions as students moved from middle to high school. Increasing/stable school belonging was also linked to increases in school engagement across the high school transition. These findings suggest that when high school transitions disrupt supportive relationships with important others in adolescents’ lives, adolescents’ socioemotional well-being and, to a lesser extent, their academic engagement are also compromised. Thus, in designing transition support activities, particularly for schools serving more low-income and race/ethnic minority youth, such efforts should strive to acclimate new high school students by providing inclusive, caring environments and positive connections with educators and peers.


Social support School transitions Socioemotional well-being Academic performance School belonging 



The authors acknowledge the support of funding from the William T. Grant Foundation to Aprile Benner and from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (R24 HD42849). Opinions reflect those of the authors and not necessarily those of the granting agencies.

Author Contributions

A.D.B. conceived of and oversaw the design of the study, supervised the data analyses and interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript. A.E.B. and F.B. performed the statistical analyses, participated in the interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study was made possible by the generous support of the William T. Grant Foundation to Aprile Benner and from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (R24 HD42849).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This original data collection was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Texas at Austin, and the current study was performed in accordance with the ethical standards at the University of Texas at Austin.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all study participants and their parents.


  1. Alegría, M., Canino, G., Shrout, P. E., Woo, M., Duan, N., Vila, D., & Meng, X. L. (2008). Prevalence of mental illness in immigrant and non-immigrant US Latino groups. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(3), 359–369. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07040704.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Alfaro, E. C., Umaña-Taylor, A. J., & Bámaca, M. Y. (2006). The influence of academic support on Latino adolescents’ academic motivation. Family Relations, 55, 279–291. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2006.00402.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderman, E. M. (2002). School effects on psychological outcomes during adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 795–809. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.94.4.795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armsden, G. C., & Greenberg, M. T. (1987). The inventory of parent and peer attachment: Individual differences and their relationship to psychological well-being in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 16, 427–454. doi: 10.1007/bf02202939.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Asher, S. R., & Wheeler, V. A. (1985). Children’s loneliness: A comparison of rejected and neglected peer status. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53, 500–505. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.53.4.500.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Barber, B. K., & Olsen, J. A. (2004). Assessing the transitions to middle and high school. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 3–30. doi: 10.1177/0743558403258113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benner, A. D. (2011). The transition to high school: Current knowledge, future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 23, 299–328. doi: 10.1007/s10648-011-9152-0.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Benner, A. D., & Graham, S. (2009). The transition to high school as a developmental process among multiethnic urban youth. Child Development, 80, 356–376. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01265.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Benner, A., & Mistry, R. S. (2007). Congruence of mother and teacher educational expectations and low-income youth’s academic competence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 140–153. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.1.140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Benner, A. D., & *Wang, Y. (2017). Racial/ethnic discrimination and adolescents’ well-being: The role of cross-ethnic friendships and friends’ experiences of discrimination. Child Development, 88, 493–504. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12606.
  11. Brown, B. B., & Larson, J. (2009). Peer relationships in adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (3rd ed., pp. 74–103). New York, NY: Wiley. doi: 10.1002/9780470479193.adlpsy002004.Google Scholar
  12. Chen, E., Miller, G. E., Kobor, M. S., & Cole, S. W. (2011). Maternal warmth buffers the effects of low early-life socioeconomic status on pro-inflammatory signaling in adulthood. Molecular Psychiatry, 16, 729–737. doi: 10.1038/mp.2010.53.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Crosnoe, R., & Benner, A. D. (2015). Children at school. In R. M. Lerner, M. H. Bornstein & T. Leventhal (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology and developmental science, Volume 4: Ecological settings and processes (pp. 268–204). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  14. Crosnoe, R., & Turley, R. N. L. (2011). K-12 educational outcomes of immigrant youth. The Future of Children, 21, 129–152. doi: 10.2307/41229014.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. Davis-Kean, P. E. (2005). The influence of parent education and family income on child achievement: The indirect role of parental expectations and the home environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 294–304. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.19.2.294.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Demanet, J., & Van Houtte, M. (2012). School belonging and school misconduct: The differing role of teacher and peer attachment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 499–514. doi: 10.1007/s10964-011-9674-2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. (2006). Self-discipline gives girls the edge: Gender in self-discipline, grades, and achievement test scores. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 198–208. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.1.198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duncan, G. J., Morris, P. A., & Rodrigues, C. (2011). Does money really matter? Estimating impacts of family income on young children’s achievement with data from random-assignment experiments. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1263–1279. doi: 10.1037/a0023875.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Elder, Jr, G. H. (1994). Time, human agency, and social change: Perspectives on the life course. Social Psychology Quarterly, 57, 4–15. doi: 10.2307/2786971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Elder, G. H. (1998). The life course as developmental theory. Child Development, 69, 1–12. doi: 10.2307/1132065.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Enders, C. K. (2010). Applied missing data analysis. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  22. Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Thompson, J. H., Hutchins, B. C., & McDonough, E. M. (2007). Patterns of middle school adjustment and ninth grade adaptation of rural African American youth: Grades and substance use. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 477–487. doi: 10.1007/s10964-007-9167-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Garcia Coll, C. & Marks, A. K. (Eds.) (2012). The immigrant paradox in children and adolescents: Is becoming American a developmental risk?. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  24. Ge, X., Conger, R. D., & Elder, Jr, G. H. (2001). Pubertal transition, stressful life events, and the emergence of gender differences in adolescent depressive symptoms. Developmental Psychology, 37, 404–417. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.37.3.404.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Gillen-O’Neel, C., & Fuligni, A. (2013). A longitudinal study of school belonging and academic motivation across high school. Child Development, 84, 678–692. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01862.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gottfredson, G. D. (1984). The effective school battery. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources Incorporated.Google Scholar
  27. Grant, K. E., Compas, B. E., Stuhlmacher, A. F., Thurm, A. E., McMahon, S. D., & Halpert, J. A. (2003). Stressors and child and adolescent psychopathology: Moving from markers to mechanisms of risk. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 447–466. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.447.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Green, C. L., Walker, J. M. T., Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., & Sandler, H. (2007). Parents’ motivations for involvement in children’s education: An empirical test of a theoretical model of parental involvement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 532–544. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.3.532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hill, N. E., & Tyson, D. F. (2009). Parental involvement in middle school: A meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement. Developmental Psychology, 45, 740–763. doi: 10.1037/a0015362.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. IBM Corporation. (2016). IBM SPSS statistics for windows, version 24.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.Google Scholar
  31. Kena, G., Hussar, W., McFarland, J., de Brey, C., Musu-Gillette, L., Wang, X., & Dunlop Velez, E. (2016). The condition of education 2016 (NCES 2016-144). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  32. Kovacs, M. (1992). Children’s depressive symptoms inventory manual. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  33. Langenkamp, A. G. (2010). Academic vulnerability and resilience during the transition to high school: The role of social relationships and district context. Sociology of Education, 83, 1–19. doi: 10.1177/0038040709356563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lindsey, M. A., Korr, W. S., Broitman, M., Bone, L., Green, A., & Leaf, P. J. (2006). Help-seeking behaviors and depression among African American adolescent boys. Social Work, 51, 49–58. doi: 10.1093/sw/51.1.49.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Little, S. A., & Garber, J. (2004). Interpersonal and achievement orientations and specific stressors predict depressive and aggressive symptoms. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 63–84. doi: 10.1177/0743558403258121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Marks, A. K., Ejesi, K., & García Coll, C. (2014). Understanding the U.S. immigrant paradox in childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 8, 59–64. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12071.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Martin, A. J., & Dowson, M. (2009). Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: Yields for theory, current issues, and educational practice. Review of Educational Research, 79, 327–365. doi: 10.3102/0034654308325583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Merikangas, K. R., He, J. P., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., & Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in US adolescents: Results from the national comorbidity survey replication–adolescent supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49, 980–989. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2012). Mplus user’s guide (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  40. Najman, J. M., Hayatbakhsh, M. R., Clavarino, A., Bor, W., O’Callaghan, M. J., & Williams, G. M. (2010). Family poverty over the early life course and recurrent adolescent and young adult anxiety and depression: A longitudinal study. American Journal of Public Health, 100, 1719–1723. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.180943.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  41. Neild, R. C., Stoner-Eby, S., & Furstenberg, F. (2008). Connecting entrance and departure: The transition to ninth grade and high school dropout. Education and Urban Society, 40, 543–569. doi: 10.1177/0013124508316438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Newman, B. M., Myers, M. C., Newman, P. R., Lohman, B. J., & Smith, V. L. (2000). The transition to high school for academically promising, urban, low-income African American youth. Adolescence, 35, 45–66.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Newman, B. M., Newman, P. R., Griffen, S., O’Connor, K., & Spas, J. (2007). The relationship of social support to depressive symptoms during the transition to high school. Adolescence, 42, 441–459.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2001). Gender differences in depression. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 173–176. doi: 10.1111/1467-8721.00142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Plunkett, S. W., Henry, C. S., Houltberg, B. J., Sands, T., & Abarca-Mortensen, S. (2008). Academic support by significant others and educational resilience in Mexican-origin ninth grade students from intact families. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 28, 333–355. doi: 10.1177/0272431608314660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Roderick, M. (2003). What’s happening to the boys? Early high school experiences and school outcomes among African American male adolescents in Chicago. Urban Education, 38, 538–607. doi: 10.1177/0042085903256221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rudasill, K. M., Reio, T. G., Stipanovic, N., & Taylor, J. E. (2010). A longitudinal study of student–teacher relationship quality, difficult temperament, and risky behavior from childhood to early adolescence. Journal of School Psychology, 48, 389–412. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2010.05.001.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Rueger, S. Y., Malecki, C. K., & Demaray, M. K. (2010). Relationship between multiple sources of perceived social support and psychological and academic adjustment in early adolescence: Comparisons across gender. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 47–61. doi: 10.1007/s10964-008-9368-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Ryan, A. M. (2001). The peer group as a context for the development of young adolescent motivation and achievement. Child Development, 72, 1135–1150. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00338.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Steinberg, L., & Morris, A. S. (2001). Adolescent development. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 83–110. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.83.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Stewart, T., & Suldo, S. (2011). Relationships between social support sources and early adolescents’ mental health: The moderating effect of student achievement level. Psychology in the Schools, 48, 1016–1033. doi: 10.1002/pits.20607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Storch, E. A., Brassard, M. R., & Masia-Warner, C. L. (2003). The relationship of peer victimization to social anxiety and loneliness in adolescence. Child Study Journal, 33, 1–19. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2004.03.003.Google Scholar
  53. Suarez-Orozco, C., Rhodes, J., & Milburn, M. (2009). Unraveling the immigrant paradox: Academic engagement and disengagement among recently arrived immigrant youth. Youth & Society, 41, 151–185. doi: 10.1177/0044118x09333647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Telzer, E. H., Fuligni, A. J., Lieberman, M. D., Miernicki, M. E., & Galván, A. (2015). The quality of adolescents’ peer relationships modulates neural sensitivity to risk taking. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 389–398. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu064.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Wang, M. T., & Eccles, J. S. (2012). Social support matters: Longitudinal effects of social support on three dimensions of school engagement from middle to high school. Child Development, 83, 877–895. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01745.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Witkow, M. R. (2006). Perceived social norms for schoolwork and achievement during adolescence. Ypsilanti, MI: Eastern Michigan University.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aprile D. Benner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alaina E. Boyle
    • 1
  • Farin Bakhtiari
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Family SciencesUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations