High school seniors (N = 89) from a suburban private high school were administered a comprehensive questionnaire to determine differences between adolescents who rated the quality of their parent and peer relationships as high or low. Adolescents with high parent and high peer relationship scores had more friends, greater family togetherness, lower levels of depression and drug use, and a higher grade point average.
The importance of parent and peer relationships for adolescents has been the focus of a significant body of research. Some studies have suggested that warm, supportive parenting contributes to satisfactory peer relations (Dekovic & Meeus, 1997). Other research has noted the reverse direction of effects, that adolescents who report more positive friendship qualifies and lack of conflict with their best friends have stronger attachments to both their mothers and their fathers (Lieberman, Doyle & Markiewicz, 1999).
Adolescents who scored high on measures of both peer and parent attachment were found to be the best adjusted (defined as least aggressive and depressed and most sympathetic), and those low on both were the least well-adjusted (Laible & Thompson, 2000). Those high on peer but low on parent attachment were better adjusted than those high on parent but low on peer attachment, suggesting that peer attachment might be relatively more influential on adolescent adjustment than parent attachment. These findings only partially support the "spillover hypothesis," namely that parent-adolescent relations indirectly influence adolescents' peer relations (MacDonald, 1998).
Others suggest that parent support may be more important than peer support. In a study by Helsen et al. (1999), parent support remained the best indicator of emotional problems during adolescence. In fact, a friend's support appeared to depend slightly on the level of perceived parent support, with the high parent support group showing a slightly positive effect of friend support and the low parent support group showing a negative effect of friend support. In a study by our group, the greatest number of relationships with positive variables involved perceived intimacy with mothers, and many more well-being variables were positively associated with parent relations as opposed to peer relations (Field et al., 1995). The importance of parent relationships to emotional well-being (van Wel et al., 2000) has also been noted by Nakada (1992), although subjects who perceived high attachment both to parents and to peers had the highest scores on measures of well-being.
The purpose of the present study was to determine differences between adolescents who rated the quality of their parent and peer relationships as high or low. High and low relationship quality groups were compared on family and peer relationships, feelings, and academics and extracurricular activities, and regression analyses were conducted to determine which variables explained the most variance.
The participants were 89 high school seniors (37 males, 52 females) who were recruited from a suburban private high school. The majority (69%) were from intact families, 19% had divorced parents, 11% had one or both parents who were deceased, and 1% had parents who never married. The participants' ethnic backgrounds were distributed as follows: 76% Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, 5% Asian, 3% African-American, and 5% other. Their socioeconomic status (SES) was skewed, with 23% low to middle SES, 49% upper-middle SES, and 28% upper SES based on the Hollingshead (1975) Index.
Students were administered a 181-item Likert-type questionnaire that examined multiple behavioral and psychological aspects of adolescent life. They completed the questionnaire anonymously, within a 45-minute time frame, in a large assembly room.
Background and lifestyle. This section of the questionnaire gathers information on demographics (gender, ethnicity, and self-perceived socioeconomic status), relationships (number of close friends, gender of friends, presence of boyfriend/girlfriend, physical affection/touching with parents, family time together, sibling relationships, important person in life, quality of peer relationships, and popularity), extracurricular activities (studying, exercise/sports, employment, and drug use), school (grade point average and academic expectations), problems (mother depression, father depression, suicidal thoughts, and life events), and well-being (Field & Yando, 1991).
Quality of relationships with parents / friends. This scale (Cronbach's alpha = .85, test-retest reliability = .81) assesses level of intimacy with mother, father, and best friend (Blyth & Foster-Clark, 1987). The 24 questions are divided into 3 subscales (one for mother, one for father, and one for best friend). For example: "How important is your mother/father/best friend to you?" The five response options range from "not at all" to "very much." High scores signify greater intimacy.
Depressed mood. The 20-item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1991) was included to assess depressive symptoms. The subject is asked to report on his/her feelings during the preceding week. The scale has been standardized for high school populations (Radloff, 1991), and has adequate test-retest reliability (.80-.90), internal consistency, and concurrent validity (Wells, Kierman, & Deykin, 1987). Test-retest reliability over a one-month period for the current sample was .79.
Drug use. Four items, taken from the background information section, were used to assess drug use: smoking, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. The four response options range from "regularly" to "never," with higher scores signifying more drug use. The questions are asked in the past tense so that students, even though the scale was anonymous, would not feel incriminated by their answers.
Comparison of High and Low Quality Parent Relationship Groups
Family and peer relationships. A significant MANOVA followed by individual ANOVAs on the family and peer relationship variables yielded the results presented in Table 1. Adolescents with high (versus low) parent relationship scores reported (1) greater intimacy with parents, (2) more frequent touching with parents, (3) more family time spent together, (4) higher quality sibling relationships, (5) more frequent presence of an important person in the adolescent's life, (6) a greater number of friends, and (7) greater popularity Feelings. A significant MANOVA on this group of variables was followed by individual ANOVAs. The high quality (versus low quality) parent relationship group reported (1) greater well-being, (2) lower depression, (3) less perceived mother depression, and (4) less perceived father depression (see Table 1).
Academics and extracurricular activities. A significant MANOVA was followed by individual ANOVAs. The high quality (versus low quality) parent relationship group reported (1) a higher grade point average, (2) greater academic expectations, (3) more frequent participation in exercise/sports, (4) less frequent employment, and (5) less frequent drug use (see Table 1).
Stepwise Regression on Quality of Parent Relationships
The stepwise regression on the quality of parent relationships yielded the following significant variables (in the order in which they were entered): (1) sibling relationships, (2) family time together, (3) time spent engaging in exercise/sports, (4) perceived mother depression (a negative relationship), and (5) frequency of employment (a negative relationship). Together, these variables accounted for 50% of the outcome variance (see Table 2).
Comparison of High and Low Quality Peer Relationship Groups
Family and peer relationships. A significant MANOVA followed by individual ANOVAs on the family and peer relationship variables yielded the results presented in Table 3. Adolescents with high (versus low) peer relationship scores reported (1) greater intimacy with parents, (2) more family time spent together, (3) more frequent presence of an important person in the adolescent's life, and (4) a greater number of friends.
Feelings. A significant MANOVA followed by individual ANOVAs on these variables revealed the following advantages for the high quality (versus low quality) peer relationship group: (1) greater well-being and (2) lower depression (see Table 3).
Academics and extracurricular activities. A significant MANOVA was followed by individual ANOVAs. The high quality (versus low quality) peer relationship group reported (1) a higher grade point average, (2) less frequent employment, and (3) less frequent drug use (see Table 3).
Stepwise Regression on Quality of Peer Relationships
A stepwise regression on the quality of peer relationships yielded two significant variables, well-being and sibling relationships, which together accounted for 42% of the variance (see Table 4).
These findings highlight the importance of both parent and peer relationships for adolescents. Although more differences emerged between the high and low quality parent (versus peer) relationship groups, many of the variables may be uniquely important to parent-adolescent relationships. For example, touching with parents differentiated the high and low parent relationship groups, but not the high and low peer relationship groups, which is not surprising. Similarly, mother and father depression would seem more relevant to parent relationships than to peer relationships. Academic expectations was another variable that differentiated the high and low parent relationship groups but not the high and low peer relationship groups, perhaps because adolescents are more concerned about pleasing their parents in this realm (Field et al., 1995). The same may pertain to the self-perceived popularity variable and the exercise/sports variable, which discriminated between the parent relationship groups but not the peer relat ionship groups. Popularity and exercise/sports may be more important to parents and may not be key factors in the quality of peer relationships.
Interestingly, stressful life events and suicidal thoughts did not discriminate between the high and low quality relationship groups for either parents or peers despite the relatively high depression scores for this sample. The high depression scores in juxtaposition to the infrequent suicidal thoughts in this study are not consistent with our previous study (Field et al., 1995). In that study, we found that adolescents with more intimate relationships were characterized by lower levels of depression and infrequent suicidal thoughts. In the current sample, the adolescents appeared to be homogeneously low on suicidal thoughts and stressful life events. Although 19% had divorced parents and 11% experienced the death of one or both parents, these events, which would seem to be stressful, may not have occurred recently.
Surprisingly, unlike much of the literature which suggests mutual influences of peer relationships on parent relationships (Devokic & Meeus, 1997; Laible et al., 2000; Lieberman et al., 1999) and parent relationships on peer relationships (Nakada, 1992; van Wel et al., 2000), neither the parent nor the peer relationship variables entered the stepwise regressions in this study. In contrast, sibling relationships, which have rarely been discussed in the literature, explained significant amounts of variance for both parent and peer relationships in this relatively advantaged sample, suggesting the need for further studies on sibling relationships.
While the sibling relationship variable was common to both regressions, family time together, exercise/sports, employment, and maternal depression entered the regression on quality of parent relationships, while well-being was the primary variable to enter the regression on peer relationships. Causality, or direction of effects, of course, cannot be determined from regression analyses. Well-being, for example, could contribute to the quality of peer relationships, or the quality of peer relationships could contribute to well-being. The fact that both regressions explained only 42% to 50% of the variance highlights the need to explore additional variables in future studies.
Although these findings differed in many ways from our previous study (Field et al., 1995), that study explored intimacy while this study explored quality of relationships. In addition, the previous study used an underprivileged sample while this study examined an extremely privileged sample. Further, in the current study mothers and fathers were not differentiated, while they were distinguished in the previous study. Despite these differences in methodology, many of the findings are similar, including the salience of drug use as a factor in low parent relationship quality/low intimacy, and the findings that parent and peer relationships in this study and parent and peer intimacy in the previous study were important for adolescent well-being. Similarly, academic achievement at least in terms of grade point average, was an important factor here and in the previous study. Finally, in both studies the female adolescents were noted to have more intimate relationships and higher quality parent and peer relationshi ps. This is perhaps not surprising inasmuch as females' greater perceived intimacy with mothers and friends is consistent with the literature showing that adult females are more intimate with their peers.
Table 1 Means for high and Low Quality Parent Relationship Groups High Low p Family and Peer Relationships Intimacy with Parents 17.90 12.94 .001 Touching Parents 19.52 13.91 .001 Family Time Together 2.67 2.17 .001 Sibling Relationships (*) 2.95 3.70 .001 Important Person in Life (*) 1.07 1.30 .05 Number of Friends 4.06 3.51 .005 Popularity 3.17 2.84 .05 Feelings Well-Being (*) 1.57 1.89 .05 Depressed Mood (CES-D) (*) 21.81 26.41 .05 Mother Depression (*) 1.36 1.70 .05 Father Depression (*) 1.38 1.71 .05 Suicidal Thoughts (*) 1.50 1.84 NS Stressful Life Events (*) 2.05 2.18 NS Academics and Extracurricular Activities Grade Point Average 3.31 2.84 .01 Academic Expectations 3.74 3.43 .05 Studying 1.98 1.83 NS Exercise/Sports 3.62 2.91 .01 Employment (*) 1.44 2.02 .001 Drug Use (*) 1.26 1.59 .05 (*)Low value is optimal. Table 2 Stepwise Regression on Quality of Parent Relationships Step Variable Adjusted R Square P 1 Sibling Relationships .21 .001 2 Family Time Together .32 .001 3 Exercise/Sports .41 .001 4 Mother Depression -.46 .001 5 Employment -.50 .001 Table 3 Means for High and Low quality Peer Relationship Groups High Low p Family and Peer Relationships Intimacy with Parents 15.98 14.63 .05 Touching Parents 16.00 17.27 NS Family Time Together 2.56 2.24 .05 Sibling Relationships (*) 3.26 3.40 NS Important Person in Life (*) 1.06 1.34 .01 Number of Friends 2.78 2.37 .01 Popularity 2.93 3.05 NS Feelings Well-Being (*) 1.47 1.88 .05 Depressed Mood (CES-D) (*) 21.77 26.69 .05 Mother Depression (*) 1.66 1.41 NS Father Depression (*) 1.61 1.49 NS Suicidal Thoughts (*) 1.53 1.85 NS Stressful Life Events (*) 2.00 2.23 NS Academics and Extracurricular Activities Grade Point Average 3.26 2.85 .05 Academic Expectations 3.37 3.77 NS Studying 1.96 1.82 NS Exercise/Sports 2.98 3.57 NS Employment (*) 1.48 2.08 .001 Drug use (*) 1.23 1.63 .05 (*)Low value is optimal. Table 4 Stepwise Regression on Quality of Peer Relationships Step Variable Adjusted R Square p 1 Well-Being .36 .001 2 Sibling Relationships .42 .005
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The authors would like to thank the adolescents who participated in this study. This research was supported by an NIMH Senior Research Scientist Award (MH00331) to Tiffany Field and funding from Johnson and Johnson.
Tiffany Field, Miguel Diego, and Christopher Sanders, Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine.
Reprint requests to Tiffany Field, Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics (D-820), P.O. Box 016820, Miami, Florida 33101. Electronic mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.…