Adolescents' Intimacy with Parents and Friends

Article excerpt

Separate literatures support the importance of intimate relationships of adolescents with parents and peers. In studies on adolescents' relationships with parents, the majority of adolescents have been noted to feel close to and get along with their parents (Richardson, Galambos, Schulenberg, & Petersen, 1984). The parent relationship literature, however, contains very little data on the association between adolescents' intimacy with their parents and other psychological variables such as self-esteem and depression or problem behaviors characteristic of adolescence including drug use and risk-taking.

In contrast, in the literature on adolescents' relationships with peers, those adolescents with supportive friendships are noted to have greater self-esteem, less depression, and better adjustment to school (Berndt & Savin-Williams, in press). Because the parent and peer relationship literatures do not overlap, little is known about the relative relationships between intimacy with parents and friends and these other important psychological and problem-behavior variables.

The purpose of the present study was to determine how intimacy with mother, father, and close friend varied as a function of demographic variables (sex, ethnicity, and SES), social and school variables (family responsibility-taking, sex of friends, presence of boyfriend/girlfriend, interest in school, and academic expectations), psychological variables (self-esteem and depression), and problem behaviors (drug use and risk-taking). Several of these variables were categorical, and others were submitted to median splits with intimacy scale scores as dependent measures.



A questionnaire comprised of several scales was administered to 455 adolescents ranging in age from 14 to 19 years (M = 16.6). Half the adolescents were female (54%), and their ethnicity consisted of 33% white non-Hispanic, 48% Hispanic, 12% black, and 5% Asian, with the remaining 2% from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Distribution of their socioeconomic status was 17% low to low middle, 50% middle, and 33% upper middle to upper class.


The questionnaire was administered anonymously to the students in their classrooms near the end of the school year. Students were informed that the purpose of the study was to learn more about their interpersonal relationships and how they felt about different areas affecting their lives. The scales required 45 minutes to complete, and answers were checked on computer scan sheets.


The questionnaire tapped the following areas of interest:

Background and Lifestyle (Field & Yando, 1991). This section includes questions on demographics (gender, ethnicity, and self-perceived socioeconomic status), relationships (number of close friends, gender of friends, and presence of boyfriend/girlfriend), school (interest in school and academic expectations), problem behaviors (suicidal thoughts and drug/alcohol use), and self-contentment.

Intimacy (Blyth & Foster-Clark, 1987). This scale (Cronbach's alpha = .85; test-retest reliability = .81) assesses level of intimacy with mother, father, and best friend. Examples of the 24 questions, which are divided into 3 subscales (one for mother, one for father, and one for best friend) are: How important is your mother/father/best friend) to you? The five-choice answers vary from "Not at All" to "Very Much." High scores signify greater intimacy.

Family Responsibility (Field & Yando, 1991). This 10-item scale (Cronbach's alpha = .65; test-retest reliability = .81) was developed to tap students' feelings of responsibility within the family. Examples of the questions include inquiries about doing housework, making mother/father (to whomever the student feels closest) feel better when she/he is "down," and having more responsibilities than peers. Likert-type answers with four choices range from "Rarely" to "Very Often. …