Adolescents' Parent and Peer Relationships

By Field, Tiffany; Diego, Miguel | Adolescence, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Adolescents' Parent and Peer Relationships


Field, Tiffany, Diego, Miguel, Adolescence


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.

METHOD

Participants

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.

Procedure

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.

Measures

Background and lifestyle. …

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