The Influence of Big Brothers on the Separation-Individuation of Adolescents from Single-Parent Families
Saintonge, Serge, Achille, Pier Angelo, Lachance, Lise, Adolescence
Many studies have shown the importance of the father in the psychological development of children and adolescents, as well as for the development of mature object relations (e.g., Biller, 1993; Cath, Gurwitt, & Gunsberg, 1989; Phares & Compas, 1992). Essentially, he can facilitate the separation-individuation process; that is, help end the symbiosis with the mother, enabling them to consolidate their own narcissism, sexual identity, and sense of individuality (Bios, 1967, 1985; Mahler, 1968; Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975). Divorce is thought to complicate this process (Kalter, 1987, 1990). Various researchers (e.g., Amato, 1993; Amato & Keith, 1991a, 1991b; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1989) have uncovered a number of short- and long-term effects of parental separation and divorce on boys, such as poor self-esteem, depression, learning problems, delinquency and, later, a poorer quality of life in terms of both their own relationships and their socioeconomic status. Others (e.g., Amaro, 1994; Bank, Forgatch, & Patterson, 1993; Lindblad-Goldberg, 1989) have described the problems experienced by mothers who assume the parenting functions alone (e.g., poverty, increased stress, difficulties exercising authority). One organization that seeks to ease the problems encountered in mother-headed single-parent families is Big Brothers.
Big Brother volunteers offer therapeutic friendship to fatherless male youths (Beiswinger, 1985; Goodman, 1972; Gurwitz, 1982; Wollin & Royphe, 1960). Studies on the effectiveness of Big Brothers have revealed many benefits: reduction in the number of juvenile court appearances (Bruce, 1973; Stocks, 1980), improvement in academic achievement (Bruce, 1973; Powell Associates, 1972; Seifert, 1972), improved self-esteem, and greater social adaptation (Edmondson, Holman, & Morrel, 1984; Frecknall & Luks, 1992; Hirschfeld, Schell, Nagel, & Czaga, 1977; Nelson & Vaillant, 1993; Seifert, 1972). However, because of multiple methodological weaknesses, the results of these studies may not be conclusive. In addition to the absence of control groups, many important independent variables (such as the age of the child when the parents separated, the reason for the father's absence, and the socioeconomic status of the family) were not assessed. In addition, weak psychometric tools were often employed. Nevertheless, a rigorous study by Thorelli (1983) revealed factors associated with the effectiveness of the Big Brother/Little Brother pairing: a dynamic and warm volunteer, desire on the part of the youth for such a relationship, age difference, and duration of the pairing.
In a qualitative study (based on interviews with ten Big Brothers) investigating the modification of object relations after three years of therapeutic friendship, Gareau (1987) reported a developmental progression: mistrust, trust, use of the Big Brother as a sometimes idealized self-object (Kohut, 1971), and emotional security permitting autonomy. In a case study, Saintonge (1987) found that the Big Brother relationship promoted integration of the aggressive drive, the maturation of the male identity, a healthy distancing from the mother, as well as better peer relationships. It was also apparent that the youth considered the Big Brother as a father substitute, but that the abandonment by the father was still experienced as rejection. In these two studies, the gradual separation-individuation process was started once the youth perceived that a stable relationship had been established. The bond with the Big Brother permitted regression and the resolution of infantile conflicts.
The present research sought to evaluate the role of Big Brothers in the separation-individuation process of adolescents from single-parent families. Specifically, adolescents matched to Big Brothers were compared with two control groups (adolescents from single-parent families without Big Brothers and those from …
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Publication information: Article title: The Influence of Big Brothers on the Separation-Individuation of Adolescents from Single-Parent Families. Contributors: Saintonge, Serge - Author, Achille, Pier Angelo - Author, Lachance, Lise - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 33. Issue: 130 Publication date: Summer 1998. Page number: 343+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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