The influence of adolescent experiences on adult relationships


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Adolescence = critical!

Adolescence is a critical period in development, marked by the increased importance of close friendships and the emergence of adult relationships. During adolescence, close friends surpass parents as the primary source of social support, and contribute to adolescents’ self-concept and well-being. By age 16, most adolescents have experienced a romantic relationship (Carver et al, 2003)

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Parent-child relationships (AO1)

Although attachment theory have traditionally focused on the parent-infant attachment bond, there is evidence that attachment processes also shape adolescent relationships. Allen and Land (1999) suggest that adolescent relationships are based on an internal model of relationships formed from their own parent-child relationships plus their experiences in current relationships. Adolescents thus acquire relationship experience, with each relationship affecting the current relationship.

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Commentary on parent-child relationships (AO2)

Breaking free from parental control may be important in adolescent development, but recent research has indicated that autonomy is most healthy when accompanied by continuing warm and close relationships with parents. This has been called ‘connectedness’ (Coleman & Hendry, 1999), and support for its importance was provided by Larson (1996).

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Larson (1996) used pagers to find out what 10-18 year olds were doing at random times during the day. Although the amount of time spent with ‘family’ decreased sharply in early adolescence, the time spent with each parent individually was fairly consistent throughout, suggesting that adolescent relationships supplement rather than replace parent-child relationships.

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Interaction with peers (AO1)

 In adolescence, attachment shifts from parents to peers. Romantic relationships in adolescence serve a number of purposes.

1st, they help to achieve the goal of separation from parents. Having shifted their attachment focus from parents to peers, adolescents can redirect intense interpersonal energy towards their romantic partner. 2nd, romantic relationships allow the adolescent to gain a type of emotional and physical intimacy that is quite different from that experienced with parents. Madsen (2001) tested the effects of dating behaviour in adolescence (15-17.5) on the quality of young adult relationships (20-21). She found that moderate or low dating frequency predicted higher-quality young adult relationships, whereas heavy dating predicted poorer quality young adult relationships.

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Commentary on interaction with peers (AO2)

Although research suggests that romantic relationships in adolescence can be healthy for later adult relationships, it has also shown the potential for some negative effects. Haynie (2003) found that romantic relationships increased some forms of deviance in adolescents by as much as 35%, and Neeman (1995) found that romantic involvement in early to middle adolescence was associated with decreases in academic achievement and increases in conduct problems.

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This suggests that the timing of romantic relationships in adolescence that determines what influence, if any, they will have. Madsen’s finding about heavy dating was challenged by Roisman (2004) who found no effect of romantic experiences at age 20 on romantic relationships at age 30, suggesting that there is no constant evidence that adolescent romantic relationships are the ‘building blocks’ of adult relationships.

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Generic commentary on childhood/adolescent experie

Restricted samples – in many studies there has been a reliance on small, highly selective samples of adolescents from 1 school or 1 city, usually in the USA. So, there will be problems with population validity, generalisability, ethnocentricity and so on..   Determinist explanation – research suggests that children who are insecurely attached at age one are doomed to experience emotionally unsatisfactory relationships. This is not the case as researchers found plenty of cases where participants were experiencing happy adult relationships despite not having been securely attached as infants.

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