Our first major project is an ongoing longitudinal study examining the influences of social relationships, autonomy, and attachments to parents as they predict development from adolescence into adulthood. We began collecting data from our sample in their adolescence in 1998 as the Kids, Lives, Families, Friends (KLIFF) Project and we are continuing 23 years later as the Virginia Institute for Development in Adulthood (VIDA). In our study, we are working to learn how adolescents are influenced by their parents, interact with their peers, and then go on to thrive (or struggle) in their relationships with romantic partners, peers, and in the workplace. We also want to understand what about the teenage years predicts future success - which we examine in terms of mental health and adjustment and physical health (e.g., immune functioning, cardiac risk factors, etc.). This study began with 184 early adolescents, with 97% still participating as of our most recent round of data collection.
We developed an intervention to help change the quality of adolescents’ peer relationships. We started from the recognition that, under the right conditions the adolescent world, rather than being a Darwinian struggle for survival, can be a source of support and encouragement. In groups from well-run summer camps, to theatre troupes, to wilderness experiences to retreats, under the right conditions, adolescents are willing to gradually open up to their peers and let down their guard. When peers can provide support and reciprocate, tight, life-changing bonds are often formed and endure. We have been working to identify and replicate critical ingredients in this process. The result is The Teen Connection Project (TCP), a school-based program, based on cutting edge-research in the social sciences to enhance academic and life outcomes for at-risk teens.
In partnership with The Wyman Group, we tested TCP both locally and as a means to enhance the academic experience of marginalized groups in Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri. The study, based on a sample of 610 adolescents, showed that TCP participation resulted in significant improvements in participants' peer relationships, increased academic engagement, and lower levels of depressive symptoms.
TCP is currently being piloted and disseminated by The Wyman Group and their national partners. It will launch as a fully replicable, evidence-based program in 2020.
Hoos Connected was inspired by The Connection Project (TCP) and intends to create a greater community of openness and connection at the University of Virginia. Hoos Connected groups consist of 6-12 first year and/or transfer students and two upperclassmen or graduate student facilitators. These groups meet once a week for about an hour to discuss a range of topics related to what brings people together, what keeps them apart, and how these dynamics manifest in UVa culture. Our mission is to show first year students that nearly everyone experiences difficulties, especially during the transition to college, and that it is okay to talk about such topics. As a result of these conversations, we hope that group members walk away with the tools needed to talk productively with their peers about difficult topics and form stronger, deeper connections with one another.
Starting in Fall 2018 we began assessing the program's efficacy using pre-, post-, and follow-up questionnaires. We are continuing to collect data as the program grows and are excited to share what we find in the coming years.