Activity Space, Social Network, and Community Influences on Adolescent Risk

How do youth’s families, schools, neighborhoods, recreational spaces, and peers impact their engagement in risky behavior and their health? Can new technologies help us measure what matters for young people in those settings?

Prior research has demonstrated that adolescent risk behaviors including substance use and delinquency are influenced by social settings, such as households, neighborhoods, schools, and peer groups. This project focuses on the influence of multiple settings on youth development, including less-often studied “activity spaces”—for example, churches, recreation centers, businesses, and other “hang out” locations—where youth engage in structured and unstructured social activities. The researchers will identify where youth spend their time, collect information on those settings, determine peer networks that cross multiple activity settings, and examine their unique and combined effects on youth. The study includes 1,000 youth and their caregivers from a contiguous cluster of 10 U.S. Census tracts encompassing a low-income, predominantly African-American area, with some representation from a middle-income, predominantly white area. The investigators plan to use global positioning systems (GPS), smartphones, surveys, interviews, and observations to collect data on youth’s behaviors, moods, health, peer presence, adult supervision, activities, and locations over one week. There will be two waves of data collection, approximately one year apart. The Foundation is supporting half the total cost of the project.