An increasing number of studies suggest that supportive social relationships in the family and school may exert a protective effect against a number of youth health risk behaviors. This study examines the association between perceived parental social support and perceived social cohesion at school with selected youth risk behavior outcomes (physical fighting, victimization, suicidal ideation, substance use, and sexual intercourse) among 930 female and male public secondary school students studying in the central region of El Salvador. The study questionnaire comprised closed-ended items of parent/school relationships and risk behaviors based on the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In regression analyses, female students who perceived low parental social support were significantly more likely to report engaging in all risk behaviors examined, and female students with perceptions of low school social cohesion were more likely to report suicidal ideation, binge drinking, and drug use. Perceptions of parental social support and school social cohesion held fewer but still significant associations across risk behaviors for male students. Male students who reported low parental social support were significantly more likely to report suicidal ideation, drug use and physical fighting, while male students with low perceived school social cohesion were more likely to report physical fighting but less likely to report binge drinking. This study lends support to the importance of supportive social relationships for understanding youth risk behavior and suggests that supportive families and schools may operate differently for female and male students living in El Salvador.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge Lesvia Salas and Rosa Luz Vega of the Ministry of Education of El Salvador for their logistical support of this study. Drs. Bebe Selwyn and Ron Harrist from the University of Texas School of Public Health provided important methodological and analytical guidance for the study. Lastly, we value the insightful comments of those who reviewed drafts of this manuscript, with special recognition of the Journal reviewers, Amy Jo Harzke, Dr. Steven Kelder, and the National Cancer Institute pre- and post-doctoral fellows at the University of Texas School of public Health-Houston. Preparation of this manuscript was made possible in part by National Cancer Institute/NIH Grant #2R25CA57712.
- El Salvador
- Parental support
- Risk behavior
- Social relationships