Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 8, pp 1649–1662 | Cite as

Critical Hopefulness Among Urban High School Students

  • Brian D. ChristensEmail author
  • Kymberly Byrd
  • N. Andrew Peterson
  • David T. LardierJr.
Empirical Research


Psychological empowerment encompasses several key aspects of youth civic and sociopolitical development. Most research has focused on psychological empowerment’s emotional component, which entails learned hopefulness about one’s own ability to participate in and lead community change efforts. Fewer studies have assessed critical awareness of how social power operates—psychological empowerment’s cognitive component. The confluence of these two components has been termed critical hopefulness. A complex relationship exists between these two components, and previous research has found relatively small proportions of participants reporting both high levels of critical awareness and simultaneously high levels of hopefulness about their ability to exert influence in the sociopolitical domain. The current study of urban high school students in the Northeastern U.S. (n = 389; 53.5% female) investigates heterogeneity according to these two components of psychological empowerment. Latent class cluster analyses were conducted and seven distinct groups of participants emerged. Students identifying as Hispanic/Latinx were more likely to be classified into a profile group exhibiting critical hopefulness. Differences were observed between psychological empowerment profile groups on self-reported levels of psychological sense of community, civic engagement, and social justice orientation. Furthermore, a larger proportion of this overall sample was classified into groups that exhibited critical hopefulness than in a previous study of adults. These findings provide useful insights for efforts to engage young people in civic life and to promote sociopolitical development.


Empowerment Sociopolitical development Civic engagement Sense of community Social justice 



The authors thank Robert Reid, Professor of Family Science and Human Development, Montclair State University, for leading data collection.

Authors’ Contributions

B. C. conceived of the study, led the statistical analysis, and drafted the manuscript; K. B. participated in conceptualizing the study, conducting analyses, and drafting the manuscript; A. P. and D. L. participated in conceptualizing the study, drafting the manuscript, and revising it critically for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This article was prepared with the support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), Grant No. SP-15104. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the sponsoring agency.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian D. Christens
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kymberly Byrd
    • 1
  • N. Andrew Peterson
    • 2
  • David T. LardierJr.
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Human & Organizational DevelopmentVanderbilt University, Peabody CollegeNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.School of Social WorkRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  3. 3.Department of Individual, Family, and Community EducationUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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