Exploring Predictors of Positive Transition: A Study of Wellbeing in Intermediate and Secondary Schools
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The transition from intermediate to secondary school is a defining period for many adolescents. This phase of life requires adolescents to adapt to an unfamiliar environment at the same time as dealing with the challenges entailed in the onset of puberty. Most research suggests that this transition has a negative effect on adolescent mental health, while wellbeing is associated with numerous academic, behavioral, and social benefits for adolescents. However, there is limited information on the way adolescents experience positive transitions and, specifically, on positive factors associated with wellbeing during the transition from intermediate to secondary school. The overall aim of this thesis was to explore the predictors of positive transitions from intermediate to secondary school in New Zealand (NZ) adolescents, using wellbeing as an indicator of transition success. Five studies were conducted to achieve this aim in two distinct but related phases: the preparatory phase and the exploratory phase. The preparatory phase comprised three studies that a) determined priority variables for predicting wellbeing (Studies 1 and 2) and b) developed a survey to assess the predictor variables (Study 3). The exploratory phase comprised a cross-sectional study (Study 4) and a longitudinal study (Study 5) that investigated the associations between the predictor variables and wellbeing. Study 1, a systematic review, identified the empirical research on the facilitators of a positive transition to secondary school. Several distinct social, school, psychological, physical, spiritual, and demographic factors were found to be associated with academic or school-specific outcomes (e.g., academic achievement or school adjustment). The review revealed that no study examined predictors of wellbeing across the transition from intermediate to secondary school and that less than 10% of studies focused on wellbeing during other types of school transition. Study 2 addressed the lack of evidence in the transition literature concerning wellbeing and added greater precision to the conceptualization of wellbeing, utilizing a unique methodology of prototype analysis. The perspectives of adolescents in ethnically and socioeconomically diverse intermediate schools (N = 361) were obtained regarding the components of wellbeing and aspects that build wellbeing. The adolescents considered enjoyment/having fun, feeling safe, and being kind and helpful as central components of wellbeing. The centrality of components varied as a function of socioeconomic status (SES): adolescents from low SES regarded good physical health, comfort/being wealthy, being focused, good values, and success/achievements as being more important for wellbeing than adolescents from high SES. Positive family relationships, positive friendships, and physical activity/sport were perceived as the key pathways to wellbeing. The findings in the first two studies were combined to select the predictor variables. Study 3 developed and validated a novel survey with brief subscales to collectively and rapidly assess the predictor variables. Informed by the findings of the preparatory phase, the exploratory phase examined the associations of predictor variables with adolescent wellbeing, using self-report surveys across two sub-studies. Study 4 explored the characteristics and determinants of global wellbeing, school wellbeing, domain-specific wellbeing, and component wellbeing in an ethnically diverse sample of 471 Year 8 adolescents aged 11 to 14 years from eight NZ intermediate schools. Four schools were high SES, two schools were middle SES, and two schools were low SES. Most of the Year 8 adolescents evaluated their wellbeing positively; however, females reported lower satisfaction with their health and lifestyle behaviors than males. Being a Pacific Islander and female, and reporting higher feelings of safety, enjoyment, knowledge and usage of strengths, school belonging, physical activity, self-efficacy, positive family relationships, positive friendships, connection with nature, mindfulness, and being around positive people, were all significantly and independently associated with wellbeing (after adjustment for psycho-socio-spiritual, physical, demographic, and school factors). Study 5 applied a two-wave longitudinal design to examine the associations of wide-ranging predictor variables with changes in global wellbeing, school wellbeing, domain-specific wellbeing, and component wellbeing in NZ adolescents across the transition from intermediate to secondary school (n = 191). The results showed significant declines in global wellbeing and small improvements in school wellbeing and component wellbeing across the transition from intermediate to secondary school. There were small but significant improvements in adolescent perceptions of positive family relationships, positive friendships, teacher support, feelings of safety, self-efficacy, school belonging, being kind and helpful, and being surrounded by positive people after the transition to secondary school as compared to before the transition. Higher perceptions of feelings of safety, school belonging, self-control, purpose, strength use and knowledge, being around positive people, enjoyment, mindfulness, and physical activity in females before the transition were associated with improved wellbeing in distinct dimensions across the transition from intermediate to secondary school. In comparison, changes in self-efficacy predicted transition-related changes in all the dimensions of wellbeing. These novel findings advance our understanding of the positive factors that predict wellbeing in the transition from intermediate to secondary school. Specifically, this thesis establishes the importance of several psychological, social, school, physical, and spiritual factors that are implicated in changes in multiple dimensions of wellbeing associated with this transition. It is hoped the findings in this thesis will stimulate further research and inform the development of holistic interventions and programs aimed at enhancing adolescent wellbeing and positive transitions.