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Young People’s Interpersonal Relationships and Academic and Nonacademic Outcomes: Scoping the Relative Salience of Teachers, Parents, Same-Sex Peers, and Opposite-Sex Peers


by Andrew J. Martin, Herbert W. Marsh, Dennis M. McInerney & Jasmine Green - March 23, 2009

Background/Context: Although informative work has been conducted on the role of interpersonal relationships and their mechanisms, most such work focuses on one or two key relationships or on a relatively small set of outcomes that are either academic or nonacademic in nature or solely based on self-report. Inevitably, such approaches limit understanding of the relative salience of all key relationships and their links to the breadth of cognition, affect, and behavior in young people’s lives.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: To understand the relative reach and range of young people’s key interpersonal relationships, the present study conducts a scoping of teacher–student, parent–child, same-sex peer, and opposite-sex peer relationships among a set of self-report and objective academic (motivation, engagement, behavior, affect, and performance) and nonacademic (physical ability, physical appearance, honesty, and emotional instability self-concepts) constructs.

Population/Participants/Subjects: The sample comprised 3,450 high school students in Years 7 and 8 (51%; age approx. 12–14 years), Years 9 and 10 (36%; age approx. 14–16 years), and Years 11 and 12 (13%; age approx. 16–18 years) from six Australian urban high schools.

Research Design: The study is a large-scale quantitative one in which high school students were administered an instrument comprising self-report academic and nonacademic measures and a brief literacy and numeracy quiz.

Data Collection and Analysis: Using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and structural equation modelling (SEM), analyses were aimed at assessing the empirical links between students’ interpersonal relationships and a variety of academic and nonacademic outcomes.

Findings/Results: Interpersonal relationships tended to be positively and significantly associated with academic and nonacademic measures. However, there were differences in patterns of findings such that teacher–student relationships and, to a lesser extent, parent–child relationships, were most highly correlated with academic outcomes, whereas peer relationships tended to be most strongly correlated with nonacademic outcomes.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings inform a greater understanding of the differential roles of teachers, parents, same-sex peers, and opposite-sex peers in relation to academic and nonacademic outcomes. Findings also provide a basis for an integrative framework for understanding, measuring, and enhancing interpersonal relationships during the high school years.

There is no doubting the importance of positive interpersonal relationships for healthy communities (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Fyson, 1999; Glover, Burns, Butler, & Patten, 1998; Hill, 1996; Moos, 2002; Royal & Rossi, 1996). Interpersonal relationships are also important at the individual level, leading to enhanced social and emotional development (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Kelly & Hansen, 1987; Martin & Dowson, in press; McCarthy, Pretty, & Catano, 1990) and, for young people, improved academic processes and outcomes (Battistich, & Hom, 1997; Furrer & Skinner, 2003; Martin & Dowson; Martin & Marsh, 2008a, 2008b; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Wentzel, 1999).


Interpersonal relationships yield positive effects in a number of ways. Ongoing social interactions teach individuals about themselves and how to function effectively in particular environments. Through high-quality relationships, individuals not only learn that particular beliefs are useful for functioning in particular relational environments but also internalize the beliefs valued by significant others (Martin & Dowson, in press; Wentzel, 1999). Relatedness also affects individuals by way of positive influences on other self-processes related to motivation and behavior (e.g., see McAdams, Hoffman, Mansfield, & Day, 1996; Ryan & Deci, 2000) and as such has an energizing function on the self (Furrer & Skinner, 2003).


Taken together, then, there are some key processes by which relatedness affects specific dimensions of young people’s lives, including, inter alia, messages from significant others such as peers, parents, and teachers; modeling by these significant others; provision of warmth and support; feedback of significant others; and the influence of group norms. We further argue that adolescence is a key stage of life dominated by these multiple processes and influences. It is at this stage in a young person’s life that parents, teachers, and peers operate on multiple dimensions, seemingly competing for optimal influence. Hence, it is this stage in a young person’s life on which the present study focuses.


Although informative work (some of which is cited previously) has been conducted on the role of interpersonal relationships and their mechanisms, most such work focuses on one or two key relationships or on a relatively small set of outcomes that are either academic or nonacademic in nature or solely based on self-report (e.g., see Martin, Marsh, McInerney, Green, & Dowson, 2007). Inevitably, such approaches limit understanding of the relative salience of all key relationships and their links to the breadth of cognition, affect, and behavior in young people’s lives. The present study, on the other hand, encompasses four key interpersonal relationships and a very diverse set of outcome measures in order to understand the relative salience of these relationships and their association with vital dimensions in young people’s lives. Specifically, it conducts a scoping of teacher–student, parent–child, same-sex peer, and opposite-sex peer relationships among a set of self-report and objective academic (motivation, engagement, behavior, affect, and performance) and nonacademic (physical ability, physical appearance, honesty, and emotional instability self-concepts) constructs. Our use of the term scoping is deliberate in that we seek to provide data on the relative reach and range of four key interpersonal relationships and their links to students’ academic and nonacademic lives. By implication, then, in adopting this scoping perspective, our data set spans multiple relationship types and multiple academic and nonacademic measures.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS


The sample comprises 3,450 high school students in Years 7 and 8 (51%; age approx. 12–14 years), Years 9 and 10 (36%; age approx. 14–16 years), and Years 11 and 12 (13%; age approx. 16–18 years) from six Australian urban high schools. Just over one third (38%) of the respondents were female, and 62% were male. The mean age of respondents was 14.03 (SD = 1.58) years. Five of the six schools were comprehensive, comprising students of mixed ability (i.e., do not screen or select students on entry by ability), and one school was academically selective. Three were fee-paying schools, and the other three were systemic comprehensive schools. Two of the largest schools were single-sex boys’ schools (hence the higher male representation), one was a single-sex girls’ school, and three were coeducational schools. In the context of the present study, all schools were located in the same educational jurisdiction and subscribe to the same mandatory curriculum and external examinations. Although some groups are more highly represented in the sample than others (e.g., males and younger students), the relatively large data set ensures there is ample representation of subgroups (e.g., N = 1,311 females—a relatively large number by most standards). Taken together, in view of sample characteristics and size, findings can be considered broadly generalizable. Less than 5% of the data were missing, and so the EM algorithm was considered an appropriate procedure (see Brown, 1994; Graham & Hoffer, 2000) for imputing missing data.


MATERIALS


Interpersonal relationship scales


Four interpersonal relationship scales were administered to students: teacher–student relationships (four items; e.g., “In general, I get along well with my teachers”); parent–child relationships (four items; e.g., “I get along well with my parents”); same-sex peer relationships (five items; e.g., “I make friends easily with members of my own sex”); and opposite-sex relationships (four items; e.g., “I have lots of friends of the opposite sex”). The latter three scales, rated 1 (false) to 6 (true), were from the Self-Description Questionnaire II-Short (SDQ II-S; Marsh, 1990), and the teacher scale, rated from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), was drawn from Martin and Marsh (2008a, 2008b). Descriptive, intercorrelation, and psychometric statistics for these scales are presented in Table 1.


Table 1. Descriptive, CFA, SEM, and Correlational Findings for Interpersonal Relationships


 

RELATIONSHIP WITH ….

 

Teacher

Parent

Same-Sex

Peer

Opposite-Sex

Peer

Descriptive Statistics and CFA Loadings

Mean

0

0

0

0

SD

1.00

1.00

1.00

1.00

Skewness

-.69

-1.32

-1.08

-.75

Kurtosis

.49

1.54

1.43

.33

Cronbach’s alpha

.85

.87

.83

.80

CFA loading range (mean)

.70-.83 (.77)

.72-.83 (.80)

.57-.76 (.66)

.62-.87 (.74)

MIMIC Modeling: Gender and Age Effects (b)

Gender (0 = FM; 1 = M)

-.02

.15*

.01

.24*

Age

.03

-.17*

-.09*

.09*

Gender x Age

-.02

-.02

.06*

-.03

CFA Correlations

Relationships

Teacher

-

   

Parent

.40*

-

  

Same-sex

.28*

.35*

-

 

Opposite-sex

.13*

.12*

.58*

-

Motivation and Engagement

Self-efficacy

.58*

.35*

.33*

.14*

Valuing school

.59*

.39*

.23*

.01

Mastery orientation

.50*

.33*

.24*

.06

Planning

.48*

.30*

.18*

.06

Task management

.50*

.33*

.22*

.08*

Persistence

.55*

.32*

.22*

.04

Anxiety

-.03

-.07*

-.13*

-.20*

Failure avoidance

-.16*

-.19*

-.23*

-.11*

Uncertain control

-.32*

-.22*

-.29*

-.18*

Self-handicapping

-.33*

-.28*

-.28*

-.09*

Disengagement

-.55*

-.47*

-.31*

-.05

Behavior and Affect

    

Homework completion

.34*

.28*

.21*

.01

Weeks absent from school

-.16*

-.10*

-.07*

.08*

Class participation

.58*

.26*

.40*

.28*

Enjoy school

.71*

.35*

.31*

.11*

Positive intentions

.66*

.30*

.28*

.04

Personal bests

.65*

.40*

.28*

.10*

Academic buoyancy

.42*

.29*

.32*

.28*

Achievement

    

Literacy

.16*

.07*

.18*

-.08*

Numeracy

.15*

.06*

.12*

-.13*

Nonacademic self-concept

    

Physical ability

.18*

.24*

.36*

.43*

Appearance

.19*

.22*

.36*

.51*

Honesty

.39*

.37*

.31*

.09*

Emotional instability

-.09*

-.22*

-.36*

-.37*

* p < 0.001.


Academic correlates


Three sets of academic correlates were administered to students: motivation and engagement measures, behavior and affect measures, and performance measures. The first set comprises the Motivation and Engagement Scale-High School (MES-HS; Martin, 2001, 2003b, 2007a, 2007b), an instrument that measures high school students’ motivation and engagement. It assesses motivation and engagement, rated from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), through three adaptive cognitive dimensions (self-efficacy, valuing, mastery orientation), three adaptive behavioral dimensions (planning, task management, persistence), three impeding/maladaptive cognitive dimensions (anxiety, failure avoidance, uncertain control), and two maladaptive behavioral dimensions (self-handicapping, disengagement). Martin (2007a) has demonstrated the psychometric properties of the MES-HS and provides sample items for each subscale.


Comprising the second set of academic correlates were a number of measures addressing additional behavioral and affective dimensions. Specifically, students were administered items that explored their class participation (four items), positive intentions (four items), enjoyment of school (four items), academic buoyancy (four  items), personal best focus (four  items), homework completion (single item), and days absent from work/school (single item). All items except the latter two were rated from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). These measures were adapted directly from Martin (2007a, 2008; see also Martin & Marsh, 2006, 2008a, 2008b), who has shown them to be reliable and a good fit to the data in confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). Martin (2006a, 2007a) provides sample items for each subscale.


Given that all these measures are based on self-report, it was considered important to include more “objective” measures of performance. Hence, the third set of academic measures comprised an objective performance task administered to students. The task comprised a subset (because of class time restrictions) of literacy and numeracy items adapted from the Wide Range Achievement Test 3 (used and validated in the Australian context; e.g., Lucas, Carstairs, & Shores, 2003).


Nonacademic correlates


Nonacademic correlates comprised key scales from the SDQ II-S (Marsh, 1990). The SDQ is regarded as the strongest and most validated multidimensional self-concept instrument available (Byrne, 1996). Nonacademic scales administered were honesty (six items), emotional instability (five items), physical appearance (four items), and physical ability (four items). All SDQ items were rated from 1 (false) to 6 (true). Sample items are presented in Marsh (1990).


RESULTS AND DISCUSSION


PRELIMINARY STATISTICAL ANALYSES OF RELATIONSHIP SCALES


Interpersonal relationship scale means (z scores to standardize across the 1–6 and 1–7 rating scales), standard deviations, distributional properties, and reliability coefficients for each relationship scale are presented in Table 1. The four-factor relationship model (teacher–student, parent–child, same-sex peer, opposite-sex peer), tested by CFA (using LISREL 8.80; Jöreskog & Sörbom, 2006), fit the data well, c2 = 3,069.29, df = 113, CFI = .93, SRMR = .05 (see Hu & Bentler, 1999; Marsh, Balla, & Hau, 1996). Table 1 shows factor loadings and factor correlations. To justify pooling data across gender and age, multigroup CFAs were conducted to test invariance across males and females and across younger and older respondents. The first model allowed all factor loadings, uniquenesses, and correlations/variances to be freely estimated (gender: CFI = .94; SRMR=.05; age: CFI = .93; SRMR = .06). The second model, a fully restrictive one, held all factor loadings, uniquenesses, and correlations/variances invariant (gender: CFI = .93; SRMR=.07; age: CFI = .93; SRMR = .07). The relative lack of change in fit (see Cheung & Rensvold, 2002) indicates broad invariance across groups, and so pooling data is appropriate. Preliminary analyses also explored mean-level gender and age effects on interpersonal relationships. Consistent with Kaplan (2000), a MIMIC (multiple indicator multiple cause) structural equation modeling (SEM) approach was used such that in the one analytic model, gender, age, and their interaction (put in deviation form to reduce collinearity; see Aiken & West, 1991) predicted the four latent relationship factors. This model yielded a good fit to the data, c2=3,274.22, df = 152, CFI = .93, SRMR = .04. Standardized beta coefficients are presented in Table 1.


Interpersonal Relationships and Key Academic and Nonacademic Correlates


The central analyses explored associations between interpersonal relationships and a set of key academic and nonacademic correlates. A 28-factor CFA comprising interpersonal relationships (4 factors), motivation and engagement (11 factors), behavior and affect (7 factors), performance (2 factors), and nonacademic self-concept (4 factors), yielded an excellent fit to the data, c2 = 27,497.96, df = 4,878, CFI = .98, SRMR = .04. Correlations (along with a conservative p < 0.001 significance criterion to reduce Type I error due to multiple testing) are presented in Table 1. As a general rule, and supportive of the bulk of previous research examining the influence of relatedness, interpersonal relationships tended to be positively and significantly associated with academic and nonacademic measures.


Although this broad set of results confirms the yields of interpersonal relationships, there were differences in patterns of findings. For example, teacher–student relationships were most highly correlated with academic outcomes, as were, to a lesser extent, parent–child relationships. In contrast, peer relationships tended to be most strongly correlated with nonacademic outcomes. In terms of the specific nature of peer influence, it seems that same-sex peer relations were more conducive to positive academic outcomes, whereas opposite-sex relations tended not to have such a positive effect, and in some cases (e.g., literacy, numeracy, weeks absent from school) actually had a negative effect. Opposite-sex peer relations, to a far greater extent than any other relationship factor, had a strong association with physical ability and appearance self-concepts, whereas same-sex peers and parents had a greater link to young people’s honesty.


This pattern of findings points to the differential impact of relationships across various aspects of young people’s lives. It seems that each of the four key interpersonal relationships is significantly associated with one or more academic or nonacademic factors and in different ways. This finding attests to the need for young people to have a range of positive interpersonal relationships in their academic, social, physical, and intrapersonal lives. The findings also point to the shifting influence of key relationships in young people’s lives and the different dimensions to which this is relevant.


The salience of peers is consistent with previous work (Becker & Luthar, 2002; Lynch & Cicchetti, 1997; Wigfield, Eccles, & Rodriguez, 1998); however, particularly encouraging was the salient role of teachers and parents in young people’s lives—a relationship that did not wane as a function of age and gender. Indeed, at a stage in a young person’s life when parents (Martin, 2003a) and teachers (Martin, 2006b) fear a dominant and counterproductive role of peers, the present findings show that the positive and substantial influence of the home and the classroom is still evident (see also Goodenow, 1993; Martin, 2006b, Teven & McCroskey, 1997).


Findings also point to the importance of studies such as these that can scope a wide array of relationship factors against a wide array of self-report and objective academic and nonacademic outcomes. This scoping approach allows an opportunity to further contribute to current understanding of the relative reach and range of various interpersonal relationships in young people’s lives. Although the academic-related importance of teachers and parents is clear and present, the separation of same-sex and opposite-sex peer factors has also been illuminating. Rather than assessing aggregate peer impact (as most previous research has done), it was shown that same-sex and opposite-sex peer relations have distinct and unique influences on young people’s lives. An interesting finding was that same-sex peer relations yielded a consistently positive impact on academic and nonacademic outcomes, but this was not the case for opposite-sex peer relations, which, although evincing positive nonacademic effects, tended to be negative on some key academic dimensions. This is not to argue against the importance of opposite-sex peer relations; rather, there needs to be a workable balance of same-sex and opposite-sex peer relations in the context of academic and nonacademic dimensions in young people’s lives.


CONCLUSION


The present investigation provides information about the measurement and analysis of key interpersonal relationships in young people’s lives. Findings inform a greater understanding of the differential roles of teachers, parents, same-sex peers, and opposite-sex peers in relation to academic and nonacademic outcomes. Findings also provide a basis for an integrative framework for understanding interpersonal relationships across gender and age. Taken together, then, the data hold substantive, methodological, and applied implications for researchers and practitioners who seek to assess and enhance the interpersonal relationships that are salient and influential in young people’s lives.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 23, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15593, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 6:09:48 PM

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About the Author
  • Andrew Martin
    University of Sydney
    E-mail Author
    ANDREW MARTIN, international senior research fellow, specializes in educational psychology and quantitative research methods. Recent publications include “Examining a Multidimensional Model of Student Motivation and Engagement Using a Construct Validation Approach” in the British Journal of Educational Psychology (2007) and “Enhancing Student Motivation and Engagement: The Effects of a Multidimensional Intervention” in Contemporary Educational Psychology (2008).
  • Herbert Marsh
    University of Oxford
    HERB MARSH, professor of education, specializes in substantive-methodological research applications in education and psychology. Recent publications include Self-Concept Theory, Measurement and Research Into Practice: The Role of Self-Concept In Educational Psychology (British Psychological Society, 2007) and, with coauthor A. O’Mara, “Reciprocal Effects Between Academic Self-Concept, Self-Esteem, Achievement and Attainment” in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2008).
  • Dennis McInerney
    The Hong Kong Institute of Education
    DENNIS MCINERNEY, chair professor of educational psychology, specializes in achievement motivation. Recent publications include, with coauthor V. McInerney, Educational Psychology: Constructing Learning (5th ed., Prentice Hall, 2008) and, with coeditor S. Van Ettenl, Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning (Vols. 1–7, Information Age Publishing).
  • Jasmine Green
    University of Sydney
    JASMINE GREEN is a research associate specializing in motivation and self-concept research. Recent publications include, with coauthors A. J. Martin and H. W. Marsh, “Motivation and Engagement in English, Mathematics and Science High School Subjects: Towards an Understanding of Multidimensional Domain Specificity” in Learning and Individual Differences (2007), and, with coauthors G. Nelson, A. J. Martin, and H. W. Marsh, “The Causal Ordering of Self-Concept and Academic Motivation and Their Effects on Academic Achievement” in International Education Journal (2006).
 
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