How Do My Friends Matter? Examining Latino Adolescents' Friendships, School Belonging, and Academic Achievement.
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Are Latino adolescents' friendships an untapped resource for academic achievement or perhaps one of the reasons why these youth struggle academically? Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N=6782; 7th through 12th graders; 52.9% female), we examined whether the process of Latino students' school belonging mediated the relationships between the context of friendships (i.e., friendship network indicators) and their academic outcomes (i.e., a context-process-outcomes model), and tested whether the process-context link varied by friends' characteristics (i.e., GPA and problem behavior; social capital). Moreover, we tested whether all relationships varied across the four largest Latino subgroups in the U.S. (i.e., Mexican, Central/South American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban). Our findings indicate that being nominated as a friend by peers and perceiving to have friends exerted both direct effects on school belonging in all but one of the Latino ethnic samples (i.e., Puerto Rican samples) and indirect effects on academic achievement in the full Latino, Mexican, and Central/South American samples. As such, school belonging was more likely to explain the links between academic achievement with nominations by peers as a friend and perceived friends than with having close-knit friendship groups. However, having a close-knit group of average or low-achieving friends predicted more school belonging for Mexican youth, but less school belonging for Cubans. Our findings suggest that friendships may be particularly beneficial for the school belonging process of highly marginalized groups in the U.S. (i.e., Mexican-origin).