The Origins of Adolescent Connectedness

Connectedness has several likely precursors, including attachment to caregivers, relatedness to others, and feelings of belongingness within social groups. Karcher (2004) proposed that connectedness develops in reaction to (a) attachment, (b) interpersonal social support, and (c) group-level experiences of belonging. Defined as active involvement and caring for other people, places, and activities, connectedness is the reciprocation of the support and positive affect that other people, in specific places, have provided youth, which works to support the youth’s social development. This reciprocal process reveals an opportunity for structuring programs and experiences in schools that aim to promote connectedness.

Connectedness is not a feeling of belonging or relatedness; rather connectedness reflects a continuation and reciprocation of basic attachment and bonding processes into the adolescents’ widening social ecology. Like indicators of attachment, connectedness reflects proximity seeking (i.e., movement towards) and positive affect for people, places, and activities in the adolescent’s life. This is an important distinction. Connection is not a bond that is felt, but is a volitional, active “bonding” with other people, places, and activities. In this way, promoting connectedness in schools does not only mean “helping students feel supported,” but also creating supportive conditions, such as through groupwork, activities, and collaborative learning, which acts to foster connections in the form of action-based, attitude-driven involvement in school.

Connectedness has, as its source, positive relationships and experiences with others, and more specifically, relationships and experiences from which youth garner esteem and competence. Early in life, primary experiences of relatedness with caregivers result in positive attachments with caregivers and provide children with their initial sources of support, esteem, and praise (Ainsworth, 1989; Kohut, 1977). Later, other forms of social support build upon these early experiences, and provide interpersonal relatedness outside the family (e.g., teachers, peers, and friends) and experiences of group belonging beyond the family unit (See Figure 1). These socially supportive interactions result in positive feelings of relatedness and belonging. Youth reciprocate these feelings by “connecting” with others by assigning them positive affect and seeking continued interaction with them (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). This reciprocation is similar to that of plugging in a power cord whereby one actively seeks out the source of connectedness (relatedness and belonging). Connectedness is not synonymous with relatedness and belonging; connectedness is a behavioral and attitudinal response to those feelings.

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience in building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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