"I'm afraid I won't make it to 19": Longitudinal Development and Impact of Future Orientation on Health Risk Behaviors among African American and Latino Young Men
Prince, Dana Margaret
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How young people conceptualize and cognitively represent their futures- as full of positive potential or constraints and negative possibilities--bears influence on their developmental trajectories. Future orientation is demonstrated to be associated with a range of health risk behaviors and outcomes. Further, positive future orientation shows promise as a protective factor for children growing up in contexts of adversity. The central focus of this dissertation is to investigate how African American and Latino young men envision their overarching future possibility and the consequences of blunted future perspective on indicators of their well-being. The Chicago Youth Development Study (CYDS), a longitudinal prospective cohort study, serves as the foundation for this dissertation research. I begin by examining the longitudinal multidimensional structure of future orientation, including positive future expectations and expected threats to future safety as two important domains of future orientation for young men of color. Next, I examine the longitudinal relationships between the multidimensional future orientation constructs and two important indicators of adolescent health and functioning - substance use and involvement in delinquent behaviors. Finally, I take a mixed-methods approach to investigate the content, prevalence, and changing trends over time of future fears described by African American and Latino young men from early adolescence through emerging adulthood. Findings advance our understanding of the structure of future orientation longitudinally, and support a latent construct approach to future orientation. The findings illustrate that in the case of expectations, it is both positive appraisals and expected threats to survival that matter for young men of color. Further, categorical autoregressive cross-lagged structural models show that future orientation has important effects on youth substance use and involvement in delinquent behavior, over time, both of which in turn decrease positive orientation and increase expectation of threats to future safety across adolescence. Similarly, low positive expectations for the future and increased expected threats to future safety continued to predict involvement in risk behaviors. Longitudinal qualitative content analysis reveal three primary themes in young men's discussion of future fears across an eight year period: 1) survival, safety, and security, 2) "making it," and 3) family wellness and fatherhood. Chronic and pervasive fears related to death/dying emerged as the most frequently discussed fear. Understanding young men's future fears in their own words offers a valuable and underrepresented perspective in future orientation research, which can influence social justice advocacy and inform social service providers' work. Taken together, this research addresses several important gaps in the current literature on future orientation, risk behavior, and marginalized youth. In doing so, it involves research and service response implications germane to social welfare in terms of supporting healthy development for historically marginalized and underserved youth.