Adolescents and Adults at the Mall: Dyadic Interactions

Article excerpt

The interpersonal involvements of adolescents have always been of interest to developmentalists. Generally, adolescents have been observed to associate less frequently with adults than with peers (Berndt, 1982; Santrock, 1993). Often absent from previous research in this area has been a clear definition of interpersonal involvements. For example, examination of emotional support or companionship during adolescence would require different strategies from examination of verbal or nonverbal interactions.

Montemayor and Flannery (1989) found that interpersonal contacts during adolescence could be differentiated between adolescents and their age mates and between adolescents and their parents. Engagements were defined by Montemayor and Flannery as active expressions including touching, talking, and smiling. Their findings revealed that mothers of adolescents exhibited less smiling and touching with their children than did mothers with younger children. For adolescents and their age mates, expressive behaviors increased from early to middle adolescence for mixed-sex pairs, while age trends for same-sex pairs varied. These findings notwithstanding, previous research of adolescent engagements has not provided clear evidence of developmental patterns (Santrock, 1993). That is, do adolescents interact with others differently as a function of their gender, age, ethnicity, and context?

An important step in the ongoing investigation of interpersonal contacts during adolescence is incorporation of a theoretical framework that includes context as well as individual behaviors. Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological theory seems most suited for this purpose in that naturalistic settings are considered important in explaining human behavior in different contexts. For example, the mall has been an ecological context for examining a variety of adolescent behaviors including consumer purchasing (Anthony, 1985), emotional distancing (Montemayor & Flannery, 1989), social distancing (Burgess, 1983), age segregation (Montemayor & Van Komen, 1980), and anomie (Lewis, 1989).

In keeping with this model, a study of teens with other teens and teens with adults at the mall would provide naturally occurring interpersonal engagements. Besides home and school, teens spend more time at the mali than in any other setting (Kowinski, 1985). In the mall, like other community contexts, adolescents spend increasing amounts of time with each other (Czikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984). For example, Anthony (1985) found that high school students at the mali were more often accompanied by one or more friends than by parents or other adults. These same adolescents gave shopping as the most common reason for going to the mali and cited being with other people as what they enjoyed most about the experience. Lewis (1989) observed that for some "core" kids, adolescents alienated from family and school, the mali has become a haven where hours are spent each day with friends.

Attributes shared most often by friends, across all developmental periods of childhood, include age, gender, and ethnicity (Hartup, 1983). In addition, heightened sociability distinguishes friendship from non-friendship relations. Buhrmester (1990) found that adolescents in intimate relationships had higher self-esteem, were more social, less hostile, and less anxious than were those in less intimate relationships. Further, behavioral concordance between friends is more likely than between nonfriends (Kandel, 1978). For example, adolescents learn that they can improve their social acceptance by dressing and talking like their friends. With age, however, during the high school years, a steady shift from same-sex to opposite-sex companionship occurs (Czikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984). The emphasis of earlier research in the area has been on teen-teen interactions. Comparisons of teen-teen dyads with adult-teen dyads are limited.

The purpose of this descriptive study was to examine differences in activities and interpersonal engagements between teen-teen dyads and teen-adult dyads in a naturalistic setting. …