School, Friends, and Substance Use: Gender Differences on the Influence of Attitudes Toward School and Close Friend Networks on Cannabis Involvement
The school environment is extremely salient in young adolescents’ lives. Adolescents who have unfavorable attitudes toward school and teachers are at elevated risk for dropping out of school and engaging in behavioral health risks. Peer network health—a summation of the positive and negative behaviors in which one’s close friend group engages—may be one way by which attitudes toward school exert influence on youth substance use. Utilizing a sample of 248 primarily African-American young urban adolescents, we tested a moderated mediation model to determine if the indirect effect of attitude to school on cannabis involvement through peer network health was conditioned on gender. Attitude toward school measured at baseline was the predictor (X), peer network health measured at 6 months was the mediator (M), cannabis involvement (including use, offers to use, and refusals to use) measured at 24 months was the outcome (Y), and gender was the moderator (W). Results indicated that negative attitudes toward school were indirectly associated with increased cannabis involvement through peer network health. This relationship was not moderated by gender. Adolescents in our sample with negative attitudes toward school were more likely to receive more offers to use cannabis and to use cannabis more frequently through the perceived health behaviors of their close friends. Implications from these results point to opportunities to leverage the dynamic associations among school experiences, friends, and cannabis involvement, such as offers and use.