First Advisor

Thomas A. Kindermann

Term of Graduation

Fall 2021

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology






Boys -- Education (Middle school), Interpersonal relations in adolescence, Student adjustment, Achievement motivation in children, Sex differences in education



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 225 pages)


Recent research has highlighted the challenges boys face in school. Boys are overrepresented on indicators of negative academic outcomes, such as detention, suspension, and dropout, as well as underperformance on state and national tests. Moreover, these effects may be long lasting: Compared to females, male students are less likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, and complete a college degree, and they may be particularly vulnerable in middle school. As students enter middle school, their motivation and engagement normatively decline, and these losses may be especially problematic for boys. Nevertheless, research documents the importance of close relationships with parents, teachers, and peers to academic motivation and engagement, suggesting they may buffer students from motivational losses. This study used data from an existing longitudinal dataset of a sixth-grade cohort (N = 366; 52% boys) to investigate (1) whether gender disparities are present in mean levels and losses in engagement and interpersonal resources, focusing on the supports from parents, teachers, and peers that may buffer boys from losses in engagement; and (2) whether these resources could support or buffer boys' engagement across sixth grade. In general, results were promising but sobering. Independent-samples t-tests and repeated measures Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) showed that boys are less engaged than girls during the first year of middle school, and they lose emotional engagement as the year progresses. Consistent with motivational theories, positive correlations were found between boys' engagement and most interpersonal factors in at least one time point, suggesting they held promise for buffering and protecting boys. However, as expected, gender disparities were present for most parent, teacher, and peer resources showing lower levels for boys at one or both time points. Little evidence was found of gender differences in losses of resources; instead, many resources showed declines over the school year for girls as well as boys. Two strategies were used to detect potential buffering effects. Comparisons of boys with higher levels of resources versus the rest of the sample showed that boys generally had higher engagement at both timepoints (but not gains in engagement) when they also had higher levels of adult provisions, relatedness to others, and (although fewer peer resources reached significance) peer group engagement, reciprocated friendships, and the lowest percentage of close friends lost. Teacher involvement and relatedness to father were identified as supports for boys' concurrent engagement and factors that protect against declines in engagement. Strategy Two compared boys with relatively high and stable engagement to those with low and stable engagement, and found indications that parent and teacher structure, parent autonomy support; and relatedness to fathers and teachers, as well as stable relatedness to mothers, may be important resources in supporting boys' engagement; and of peer resources, engaged peer groups and maintenance of closest friendships may support and buffer boys' engagement across the school year. Taken together, multiple factors were identified that showed promise in supporting boys' engagement and buffering losses; however, this study indicates that boys have lower levels of these resources during a time when all students are experiencing losses in these provisions across the school year. Strengths and limitations, implications, and avenues for future research are discussed.


© 2021 Brandy Anne Brennan

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