Adolescents' Perceptions of Family Responsibility-Taking

Article excerpt

Parents consider responsibility-taking an important developmental issue for adolescents. However, little is known about how adolescents perceive their family responsibilities, and there has been no measure for this construct.

Recent increases in separated, divorced, and single-parent families have required adolescents to assume more responsibility in their families, such as household chores (Garbarino, 1986). Adolescents in such families may experience greater demands to make mature decisions (Amato, 1987; Dombusch, Carlsmith, Bushwall, Ritter, Leiderman, Hastorf, & Gross, 1985) and more frequently develop companionate and sympathetic relationships with their custodial parents than do adolescents from two-parent families (Polit, 1984; Weis, 1979). In addition, because adolescents in single-parent families may have more responsibilities inside the home, they have less time for outside activities (Keith, Nelson, Schlabach, & Thompson, 1990).

Investigators have suggested that the changing economy has also affected adolescents' responsibility-taking. Garbarino (1986) has observed that the more daily life becomes focused on having money, the more Americans have shifted away from child-centered lifestyles. For example, affluent parents tend to rush adolescents into preparing for future elite status (the hurried child syndrome), and financially struggling parents tend to rush children into obtaining employment. As a result, adolescents may assume increased familial responsibilities at a younger age. Although some researchers have reported negative outcomes for these adolescents, others have suggested that such responsibilities facilitate emotional autonomy and disengagement from the family (Ryan & Lynch, 1989).

For the family, adolescents' responsibility-taking may contribute to increased intimacy with parents. Recent research suggests that adolescents have closer relationships with their parents than was portrayed in earlier literature (Offer, Ostrov, Howard, & Atkinson, 1990; Smollar & Youniss, 1989). In turn, closer relationships lead to more positive social and emotional development (Groterant & Cooper, 1985, 1986; Hauser, Powers, Noam, Jacobson, Weiss, & Follansbee, 1984). Presumably, closeness to parents relates to family responsibility.taking, although little is known about this relationship and how adolescents view family responsibility-taking.

In one study, adolescents' experiences of control, responsibility-taking, and life satisfaction were found to be strongly related, and they viewed responsibility-taking positively (Ortman, 1988). However, adolescents' views about particular family responsibilities were not tapped. Another study reported that children who assumed more family responsibility tended to be more independent, mastered self-help skills, developed problem-solving abilities, and matured more quickly than did children who assumed less responsibility (Weis, 1979). Again, it was not clear how the children viewed particular family responsibilities. It may be that adolescents perceive responsibility-taking in general as a positive, autonomy-promoting activity, but view the actuality as a negative prolongation of family involvement and an interference with peer relationships.

In the present study, adolescents were administered a scale designed specifically to measure family responsibility-taking (Field & Yando, 1991). A major limitation of previous responsibility-taking research was the use of parents as informants. This study, however, was designed to tap adolescents' own perceptions of family responsibility taking, both potentially positive aspects (e.g., being closer to parents) and negative (e.g., worrying more about family, having more household tasks and less time with peers). Because adolescents may view family responsibility-taking as enhancing relationships with parents but interfering with relationships with peers, a self-report scale was included to tap intimacy with parents and peers. …