A new cross-cultural study suggests middle school students are influenced by the perceived support they receive from their teachers.

The investigation determined both Chinese and American middle schoolers who feel supported by their teachers tend to have higher self-esteem, and those who don’t feel supported by fellow students are more likely to be depressed.

The study was conducted by researchers at Southeast University (in Nanjing, China), New York University, the Educational Testing Service, Harvard University, the University of Western Ontario, and Nanjing Brain Hospital.

Researchers hope to determine commonalities as well as differences between Chinese and U.S. students. Their findings will appear in the September/October 2009 issue of Child Development.

The researchers looked at almost 1,500 urban middle school students in China and the United States.

They considered students’ perceptions of three aspects of school climate: teacher support, student support, and opportunities for autonomy in the classroom. And they looked at the ties between these three aspects and students’ self-esteem, symptoms of depression, and grades.

The study found that students in China got more support from teachers and other students and more opportunities for autonomy than students in the United States. For both Chinese and American middle schoolers, students who felt supported by their teachers were more likely to have higher self-esteem, while students who didn’t feel supported by their fellow students were more likely to be depressed.

And although middle school youths had more opportunities for autonomy in the classroom in China, increased opportunity for autonomy translated into lower grade point averages for children in both countries.

“Our results underscore the importance of examining the cultural context in studies of adolescent adjustment,” according to Yueming Jia, a research scientist of psychology at Southeast University, who led the study.

“Practical implications that can be drawn from the study include paying more attention to the ways in which the context influences children’s adjustment, as well as emphasizing the impact of social and emotional support from teachers and peers on adolescents’ academic and emotional adjustment.”

The study was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development