Changes in the Parental Bond and the Well-Being of Adolescents and Young Adults

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INTRODUCTION

Parental Bond

According to studies from various countries, the vast majority of adolescents maintain a good relationship with their parents (Offer et al., 1988; Steinberg, 1990). After adolescence, adult children also usually remain on good terms with their parents (Thornton et al., 1995). A strong and secure parental bond does not need to be an obstacle for adolescents as they strive to become independent (Grotevant & Cooper, 1985, 1986). On the contrary, it actually stimulates this process. Parents continue to provide guidance and support for most adolescents who are learning to stand on their own feet (Greenberg et al., 1983; Kenny, 1987; Ryan & Lynch, 1989). According to Youniss and Smollar (1985), during adolescence the relationship between the generations is transformed from one of relatively unilateral authority to one of cooperative negotiation.

Most studies of the parental bond cover a limited age range. Even though the bond may remain reasonably strong and stable, according to some studies there is usually a deterioration in the early and middle phases of adolescence (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992; Paulson & Sputa, 1996; Steinberg, 1987, 1988, 1990), whereas other studies report an improvement in late adolescence and early adulthood (Feldman & Gehring, 1990; Thornton et al., 1995). However, it is very rare that a curvilinear pattern has been proven in a single study, and even in such cases, it has been from a cross-sectional or a partly cross-sectional, partly longitudinal perspective (Van Wel, 1994; Van Wel, Linssen, & Abma, 2000). The level of conflict between parents and adolescents--which does not necessarily imply a negative relationship--also seems to suggest a curvilinear pattern (Montemayor, 1990).

Some researchers have studied the parental bond without differentiating between mothers and fathers (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987; Kenny, 1987; Lamborn & Steinberg, 1993; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986), whereas others have emphasized that children, as a rule, have a closer relationship with their mother than with their father (LeCroy, 1988; Thornton et al., 1995). Females and males may have different parental bonds. It has sometimes been found that adolescent females do not have as good a parental bond as do males (Ryan & Lynch, 1989). Other studies, though, reveal that the reverse is also true (Kenny, 1994). Generally, however, there is little or no difference reported between the parental bonds of the two sexes (Nada Raja et al., 1992; Windle & Miller-Tutzauer, 1992).

Influences of the Parental Bond

Many studies highlight the fact that parents play a key role in the well-being and functioning of adolescents (Rice, 1990), whether in the development of identity (Allen et al., 1994), a positive self-image (Wenk et al., 1994), life satisfaction (Leung & Leung, 1992), social competence and other skills (Paterson et al., 1995), or emotional problems such as psychological stress and depression (Lasko et al., 1996; Nada Raja et al., 1992; Siddique & D'Arcy, 1984; Whitbeck et al., 1993) and problem behavior (Windle & Miller-Tutzauer, 1992). Some studies show that the quality of the parental bond has psychological effects when viewed longitudinally (Allen et al., 1994; Burge et al., 1997; DuBois et al., 1992; Whitbeck et al., 1993).

The positive effects of the parental bond on young adults (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987; Roberts & Bengston, 1993) and adult children (Amato, 1994; Barnett et al., 1991; Barnett et al., 1992) have not been studied exhaustively, but the available data reveal that the parental bond remains of considerable importance. Some authors suggest that the parents' influence on their children's well-being diminishes as the children grow older (Greenberger & Chen, 1996); others assert that it continues unabated (Paterson et al. …