Portrait of a Learner 9-12

Systems Change

Social Supports

Factor Connections

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Social Supports are the perception and presence of a support network available to help if needed. Adolescents are social creatures, and therefore their well-being is in part based on having a support network they feel they can rely on (including friends and family, teachers, and their broader community). Even if they have never sought support from their network, feeling that they would be supported if needed is a key contributor to academic success and well-being. In addition, when adolescents do reach out for support, the help they receive may further contribute and strengthen their perceptions of their Social Supports, increase self-efficacy, and help them in achieving their goals.

Main Ideas

Key sources of Social Supports include parents, friends, classmates, teachers, and other school resources and staff. These sources offer different types of support to a student including:

  • Emotional support by caring for and showing compassion to the student;
  • Appraisal support by providing the student with helpful feedback;
  • Instrumental support by contributing resources such as time and money; and
  • Information support by providing information and advice.

Social Supports are important for many reasons, and are a critical component of adolescent's well-being and academic success. Adolescence is a key time for Identity development, with many learners often grappling with aspects of their Identity. Those who feel supported are more likely to feel accepted, have better emotional well-being, and are better able to cope with challenges associated with racial discrimination and Adverse Experiences.

In later adolescence Social Supports from peers may start to play a larger role in students' lives, and can play a large part in buffering the effects of bullying. However, family Social Supports still continue to be extremely important. Effective Social Supports can look different for different families in order to best support differing needs and family attributes such as cultural background and disability status. Despite differences, each can lead to equally positive learner outcomes. Overall, parenting practices like supportiveness and engagement are typically beneficial across families of diverse culture, race, and ethnicity.

In addition, while a family's Socioeconomic Status (SES) can contribute to certain aspects of Social Supports, (for example, parents who don't worry about their income may be less stressed, have more time to engage with children, and more financial resources), families across SES backgrounds are capable of providing effective Social Supports. What matters is caregivers' time and emotional support. Families of students with learning disabilities and ADHD may have a smaller social support network, possibly because of their hesitation to share that their child has a learning disability due to stigma, which can add to stress at home.

Unfortunately, students may experience Adverse Experiences that can erode their actual and/or perceived Social Supports. Situations that can erode their parent, family, and/or caregiver Social Supports include having parents/guardians who divorce or separate, pass away, go to jail, experience problems with substance abuse, or have a significant mental illness. Situations that can erode their friend and classmate Social Supports include being a victim of bullying and/or cyberbullying, experiencing racism and/or discrimination, and moving to a new school. Building positive relationships with other sources of Social Supports, such as with a teacher or family friend, may diminish the negative effects of this kind of trauma. It is important for schools to ensure that their system has Social Supports embedded in their structure to allow trusted adults to provide empathy, guidance, and a sense of Safety.

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