Neighborhood Poverty and Adolescent Development analyzes, summarizes and critiques studies exploring how neighbourhood poverty affects adolescent growth, development and adjustment (p 115).
The article reviews data from multiple neighbourhood studies, highlighting the direct and indirect effects of neighbourhood poverty on adolescent development and categorizes the findings: identity development, academic achievement, internalizing behaviours, externalizing behaviours, sexual risk, and physical health. Overall, the findings suggest that poverty has adverse effects on adolescent development in all categories. Even in an optimal setting, adolescence can be a challenging time, marked by significant biological, social and cognitive changes (p 114). When this stage is experienced with neighbourhood poverty, it is characterized by a higher proportion of unfavourable outcomes for adolescents, including suicide, depression, aggressive behaviour, delinquency, teenage pregnancy and poor dietary habits.
Another goal of the article was to examine the studies and evaluate them on practices used, to determine if the results were accurate and how better practices—for example, using current census data, including a conceptual definition of neighbourhood poverty, clarifying neighbourhood-level constructs and examining individual-level factors—could lead to more accurate findings. Most of the studies reviewed for this article used indicators such as census block group data to determine neighbourhood poverty (p 116). The problem with using this data is that it is often many years old, and doesn’t reflect the changing dynamic of neighbourhoods. Additionally, most of the studies didn’t include a conceptual definition of neighbourhood poverty and instead used data such as percent representation of immigrants and African Americans as an index for determining neighborhood poverty (p 123). It is true that these populations are overrepresented in poor neighbourhoods, however, defining a neighborhood as high poverty based on this representation is a flaw in the sample selection (p 123).
Ultimately, there is much work to be done in the way of neighbourhood studies. Areas that are not studied and understood, can’t be met with apt solutions. One example of this is the lack of studies exploring delinquency in girls in resource-poor neighbourhoods (pg 124). Funding and conducting more specialized studies would lead to a better understanding of the complexities of neighbourhood poverty. A heightened understanding would then lead to modification and creation of policies, community and school programs, and social initiatives that seek to prevent and support people affected by neighbourhood poverty. As the article suggests, more accurate and more specific studies is an appropriate top-level solution, but the question remains: How do we approach this issue as “front-line” educators?
It is evident, from experience and from the article that, “youth development occurs within a set of embedded contexts that includes both micro and macro level systems and their interactions” (pg 114). Even things we’ve covered in class so far are important acknowledgments, like recognizing that adolescents living in the context of neighbourhood poverty are disadvantaged in the amount of social and cultural capital they accumulate, which has a negative impact on their life chances. Also, that they likely experienced disruption in stages of psychosocial development as a result of living in a resource-scarce neighbourhood. To better understand their students’ experience, a teacher should experience and participate in their school’s neighbourhood. The more we educate ourselves, the more we can discern, empathize and support a student’s situation. Teachers should also work to understand the experience of individual students and create an equitable environment for those students, offering students different pathways to the same opportunities.
McBride Murray T., (2011) “Neighbourhood Poverty and Adolescent Development” Annual Review of Psychology.. 52:83–110