Protecting Youth from Harm: Exploring Hope, Purpose and Meaning as Promotive Factors against Youth Violence


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between future orientation (assessed with measures of future expectations, hope, purpose, and meaning), other risk and protective factors, violent attitudes, and bullying/aggressive behaviors in a convenience sample of 7th-grade urban youth, and to test a mediation model that linked future orientation with bullying/aggressive behavior through their effects on attitudes about violence.

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between future orientation (assessed with measures of future expectations, hope, purpose, and meaning), other risk and protective factors, violent attitudes, and bullying/aggressive behaviors in a convenience sample of 7th-grade urban youth, and to test a mediation model that linked future orientation with bullying/aggressive behavior through their effects on attitudes about violence. A paper-pencil survey was administered to 7th grade students attending an urban middle school in Flint, MI. Approximately 60% of 7th-grade students participated in the survey (mean age = 13 years; N = 196; 60% female; 60% African American). Among the 196 youth, 35% reported being involved in a physical fight in the past month, 88% reported acts of relational aggression in the past month, and 36% reported acts of non-physical aggression (i.e., threaten to hit or hurt, ask to fight) in the past month. In addition, 76% of participants reported being a victim of relational aggression and 32% reported being threatened or asked to fight (non-physical victimization/bullying) in the past month. To date, future expectations had the strongest association with attitudes towards violence and aggressive behavior (including relational aggression, non-physical aggression, and physical fighting). Youth with positive expectations about the future reported fewer positive attitudes about the use of violence, and lower levels of physical fighting, and relational and nonphysical aggression. Future expectations had both a direct and indirect effect on relational aggression, non-physical aggression, and physical fighting (i.e., future expectations influenced relational aggression, non-physical aggression, and physical fighting through attitudes towards the use of violence). Yet, while youth with a positive orientation to the future reported fewer positive attitudes about the use of violence and lower levels of physical fighting, and relational and physical aggression, attitudes about violence had a strong influence on aggression. Differences in the mediation model based on gender and level of parental support were examined. There were gender differences in the associations between future expectations and attitudes towards the use of violence and aggressive/violent behaviors. Future expectations offered more protection for females than males. In the proposed mediation model, future expectations had both a direct and indirect effect on relational aggression, non-physical aggression, and physical fighting for females but not for males. Significant associations between future expectations, attitudes about the use of violence, and relational aggression, non-physical aggression, and physical fighting varied based on level of mother support. Tests of mediation were not significant based on level of mother support. Additional analyses are ongoing. Our findings suggest that future orientation can play a role in reducing attitudes towards the use of aggression and aggressive behaviors among youth. Interventions that help support the development of future goals and aspirations could play a vital role in bullying and violence prevention efforts.