Drawing from an ecological assets framework as well as research and theory on positive youth development, this study examined the relationship of early adolescents’ satisfaction with life to trait optimism and assets representing the social contexts in which early adolescents spend most of their time. Self-reports of satisfaction with life, optimism, and ecological assets in the school (school connectedness), neighborhood (perceived neighborhood support), family (perceived parental support), and peer group (positive peer relationships) were assessed in a sample of 1,402 4th to 7th graders (47% female) from 25 public elementary schools. Multilevel modeling (MLM) was conducted to analyze the variability in life satisfaction both at the individual and the school level. As hypothesized, adding optimism and the dimensions representing the ecology of early adolescence to the model significantly reduced the variability in life satisfaction at both levels of analysis. Both personal (optimism) and all of the ecological assets significantly and positively predicted early adolescents’ life satisfaction. The results suggest the theoretical and practical utility of an assets approach for understanding life satisfaction in early adolescence.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
In the school districts in which data collection took place, students are by default expected to attend a public school within their so-called catchment area (“neighborhood school”). Catchment areas are geographical boundaries that define neighborhoods; the rationale for students to register in a school in their catchment area is to ensure that students are able to attend a school in their proximate living environment. If students wish to consider a school outside the boundaries of their neighborhood catchment area, they need to undergo an application process; their request to attend a school in a different catchment area can only be met if the particular school the student wishes to attend has the additional resources and space to accept a student from outside the catchment.
Anderman, L. H., & Freeman, T. M. (2004). Students’ sense of belonging in school. In P. R. Pintrich & M. L. Maehr (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement (Vol. 13, pp. 27–63). Oxford, England: Elsevier.
Battistich, V. (2005). Character Education, Prevention, and Positive Youth Development. Washington, D.C.: Character Education Partnership.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachment as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.
Ben-Arieh, A., & Frones, I. (2007). Indicators of children’s well-being: Concepts, indices and usage. Social Indicators Research, 80, 1–4.
Benson, P. L. (1997). All kids are our kids: What communities must do to raise caring and responsible children and adolescents. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Benson, P. L. (2003). Developmental assets and asset building communities: Conceptual and empirical foundations. In R. M. Lerner & P. L. Benson (Eds.), Developmental assets and asset-building communities: Implications for research, policy, and practice (pp. 19–43). Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic.
Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2009). The definition and preliminary measurement of thriving in adolescence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 85–104.
Benson, P. L., Scales, P., & Blyth, D. (1998). Beyond the “village” rhetoric: Creating healthy communities for children and adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 2, 138–159.
Bickel, R. (2007). Multilevel Analysis for Applied Research: It’s Just Regression. New York: The Guilford Press.
Bliese, P. D. (1998). Group size, ICC values, and group-level correlations: A simulation. Organizational Research Methods, 1, 355–373.
Brodhagen, A., & Wise, D. (2008). Optimism as a mediator between the experience of child abuse, other traumatic events, and distress. Journal of Family Violence, 23, 403–411.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). Ecological system theories. Annals of Child Development, 6, 187–249.
Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2001). Optimism, pessimism, and self-regulation. In E. C. Chang (Ed.), Optimism and pessimism: Implications for theory, research, and practice (pp. 31–51). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Damon, W. (2004). What is positive youth development? Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591, 13–24.
Deptula, D. D., Cohen, R., Phillipsen, L. C., & Ey, S. (2006). Expecting the best: The relation between peer optimism and social competence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 130–141.
Development Studies Center (1994). Middle-school scales: Sense of school community subscale. Retrieved October 2005, from http://www.devstu.org/cdp/index.html.
Diener, E. (2009). Subjective well-being. In E. Diener (Ed.), The science of well-being: The collected work of Ed Diener. Social Indicators Research Series 37, doi:10.1007/978-90-481-2352-6_2.
Diener, E. & Diener, M. (2009). Cross-cultural correlates in life satisfaction and self-esteem. In E. Diener (Ed.), Culture and Well-Being: The Collected Works of Ed Diener. Social Indicators Research Series 38, doi:10.1007/978-90-481-2352-04.
Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction With Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.
Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276–302.
Dougherty, L. R. (2006). Children’s emotionality and social status: A meta-analytic review. Social Development, 15, 394–417.
Eccles, J. S., & Gootman, J. A. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Eccles, J. S., & Roeser, R. W. (2009). Schools, academic motivation, and stage-environment fit. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (3rd ed. ed., pp. 404–434). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Farrell, S. J., Aubry, T., & Coulumbe, D. (2004). Neighborhoods and neighbors: Do they contribute to personal well-being? Journal of Community Psychology, 32, 9–34.
Furlong, M. J., Whipple, A. D., St. Jean, G., Simental, J., Soliz, A., & Punthuna, S. (2003). Multiple contexts of school engagement: Moving towards a unifying framework for educational research and practice. The Californian School Psychologist, 8, 99–113.
Gadermann, A. M., Guhn, M., & Zumbo, B. D. (in press). Investigating the substantive aspect of construct validity for the Satisfaction with Life Scale adapted for Children: A focus on cognitive processes. Social Indicators Research: An International Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality of Life Measurement.
Gadermann, A., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Zumbo, B. (2010). Investigating validity evidence of the Satisfaction With Life Scale Adapted for Children. Social Indicators Research, 96, 229–247.
Gilman, R., & Huebner, E. S. (2003). A review of life satisfaction research with children and adolescents. School Psychology Quarterly, 18, 192–205.
Hayes, A. F. (2006). A primer on multilevel modeling. Human Communication Research, 32, 385–410.
Haynes, N. M., Emmons, C., & Ben-Avie, M. (1997). School climate as a factor in student adjustment and achievement. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 8, 321–329.
Huebner, E. S. (2004). Research on assessment of life satisfaction of children and adolescents. Social Indicators Research, 66, 3–33.
Huebner, E. S., Suldo, S. M., & Gilman, R. (2006). Life satisfaction. In G. Bear & K. Minke (Eds.), Children’s needs III (pp. 357–368). Washington, DC: National Association of School Psychologists.
Hughes, J. N., Luo, W., Kwok, Q., & Loyd, L. K. (2008). Teacher-student support, effortful engagement, and achievement: A 3-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 1–14.
Janus, M., & Offord, D. (2007). Development and psychometric properties of the early development instrument (EDI): A measure of children’s school readiness. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 39, 1–22.
Kershaw, P., Irwin, L., Trafford, K., & Hertzman, C. (2005). The British Columbia atlas of child development (1st ed., Vol. 40). Vancouver, BC: Human Early Learning Partnership/Western Geographical Press.
Knowlton, M. A. (2008). Resilience theory, social capital of neighborhoods and adolescence: The effects of neighborhoods on competence demonstrated during adolescence. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, Vol 68, 7- B.
Kreft, I. G. G., & de Leeuw, J. (1998). Introducing multilevel modeling. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kumpfer, K. L. (1999). Factors and processes contributing to resilience: The resilience framework. In M. Glantz & J. Johnson (Eds.), Resilience and development: Positive life adaptations (pp. 179–224). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
Larson, R. W. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55, 170–183.
Lerner, R. M. (2002). Concepts and theories of human development (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lerner, R. W., von Eye, A., Lerner, J. V., Levin-Bizan, S., & Bowers, E. P. (2010). Special issue introduction: The meaning and measurement of thriving: A view of the issues. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 707–719.
Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The neighborhoods they live in: Effects of neighborhood residence upon child and adolescent outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 309–337.
Lewis, A. D., Huebner, S., Malone, P. S., & Valois, R. F. (2010). Life satisfaction and student engagement in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9517-6.
Li, Y., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2010). Personal and ecological assets and academic competence in early adolescence: The mediating role of school engagement. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9535-4.
Luciana, M. (2010). Adolescent brain development: Current themes and future directions. Introduction to the special issue. Brain and Cognition, 72, 1–5.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803–855.
Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56, 227–238.
Muthén, B. O., & Satorra, A. (1989). Multilevel aspects of varying parameters in structural models. In R. D. Bock (Ed.), Multilevel analysis of educational data (pp. 87–99). San Diego: Academic Press.
Muthén, B. O., & Satorra, A. (1995). Complex sample data in structural equation modeling. In P. V. Marsden (Ed.), Sociological methodology (pp. 267–316). Oxford: Blackwell.
Nangle, D. W., & Erdley, C. A. (2001). Editors’ notes. In D. W. Nangle & C. A. Erdley (Series Eds.) & W. Damon (Volume Ed.), New directions for child and adolescent development. The role of friendship in psychological adjustment (Vol. 91, pp. 1–4). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Noam, G. G., & Goldstein, L. S. (1998). The Resiliency Inventory. Unpublished Protocol.
Oberle, E., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Thomson, K. C. (2010). Understanding the link between social and emotional well-being and peer relations in early adolescence: Gender-specific predictors of peer-acceptance. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 1330–1342.
Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70, 323–367.
Peugh, J. L. (2010). A practical guide to multilevel modeling. Journal of School Psychology, 48, 85–111.
Peugh, J. L., & Enders, C. K. (2005). Using SPSS mixed procedure to fit cross-sectional and longitudinal multilevel models. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 65, 717–745.
Proctor, C. L., Linley, P. A., & Maltby, J. (2009). Youth life satisfaction: A review of the literature. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 583–630.
Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Rubin, K. H., Bukowski, W., & Parker, J. (2006). Peer interactions, relationships, and groups. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Social, emotional and personality development (6th ed., pp. 571–645). New York: Wiley.
Sarason, S. B. (1997). Foreword. In R. P. Weissberg, T. P. Gullotta, R. L. Hampton, B. A. Ryan, & G. R. Adams (Eds.), Enhancing children’s wellness (pp. ix–xi). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., & Mannes, M. (2006). The contribution to adolescent well-being made by non-family adults: An examination of developmental assets as contexts and processes. Journal of Community Psychology, 34, 301–313.
Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Hintz, N. R., Sullivan, T. K., & Mannes, M. (2001). The role of neighborhood and community in building developmental assets for children and youth: A national study of social norms among American adults. Journal of Community Psychology, 6, 703–727.
Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1993). On the power of positive thinking: The benefits of being optimistic. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2, 26–30.
Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Buote, D., Jaramillo, A., & Foulkes, K. (2008). Happiness, optimism, and positive psychological traits during pre- and early adolescence: Relations to parents, peers, and after-school time. Chicago, IL: Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research and Adolescence.
Shochet, I. M., Dadds, M. R., Ham, D., & Montague, R. (2006). School connectedness is an underemphasized parameter in adolescent mental health: Results of a community prediction study. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35, 170–179.
Skues, J. L., Cunningham, E. G., & Pokharel, T. (2005). The influence of bullying behaviours on sense of school connectedness, motivation, and self-esteem. Australian Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 15, 17–26.
Song, M. (2003). Two studies on the Resiliency Inventory (RI): Toward the goal of creating a culturally sensitive measure of adolescent resilience. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
Steinberg, L. (2005). Cognitive and affective development in adolescence. Trends in Cognitive Science, 9, 69–74.
Theokas, C., Almerigi, J. B., Lerner, R. M., Dowling, E. M., Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., et al. (2005). Conceptualizing and modeling developmental and ecological asset components of thriving in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25, 113–143.
Theokas, C., & Lerner, R. M. (2006). Observed ecological assets in families, schools, and neighborhoods: Conceptualizations, measurement, and relations with positive and negative developmental outcomes. Applied Developmental Science, 10, 61–74.
Valois, R. F., Zullig, K. J., Huebner, E. S., & Drane, J. W. (2009). Youth developmental assets and perceived life satisfaction. Is there a relationship? Applied Research on Quality of Life, 4, 315–331.
Vitaro, F., Boivin, M., & Bukowski, W. M. (2009). The role of friendship in child and adolescent development. In K. H. Rubin, W. M. Bukowski, & B. Laursen (Eds.), Handbook of peer interactions, relationships, and groups (pp. 568–585). New York: Guilford Press.
Wentzel, K. R. (2009). Peers and academic functioning at school. In K. H. Rubin, W. M. Bukowski, & B. Laursen (Eds.), Handbook of peer interactions, relationships, and groups (pp. 531–547). New York: The Guilford Press.
WestEd. (2005). California Healthy Kids Survey: Middle school survey, Module A. Retrieved October 1st 2005 from http://www.wested.org/cs/chks.
Whitlock, J. L. (2006). Youth perceptions of life at school: Contextual correlates of school connectedness in adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 10, 13–29.
Wigfield, A., Byrnes, J. P., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Development during early and middle adolescence. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 87–113). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Wright, M. O., & Masten, A. S. (2005). Resilience processes in development: Fostering positive adaptation in the context of adversity. In S. Goldstein & R. Brooks (Eds.), Handbook of resilience in children (pp. 17–37). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press.
Yonas, M. A., Lewis, T., Hussey, J. M., Thomson, R., English, D., & Dubowitz, H. (2010). Perceptions of neighborhood collective efficacy on moderate the impact of maltreatment on aggression. Child Maltreatment, 15, 37–47.
Young, D. H. (2004). Does school connectedness predict bullying? An analysis of perceptions among public middle school students. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 64: 3959.
About this article
Cite this article
Oberle, E., Schonert-Reichl, K.A. & Zumbo, B.D. Life Satisfaction in Early Adolescence: Personal, Neighborhood, School, Family, and Peer Influences. J Youth Adolescence 40, 889–901 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-010-9599-1
- Early adolescence
- Life satisfaction
- Ecological context
- Multilevel modeling