Adolescent Loneliness: Testing a Predictive Model

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study presents a model of prediction for adolescent loneliness that focuses on theparent-child relationship within the context ache family. Theoretical explanations of adolescent loneliness are discussed in relationship tq model testing. The study sample consisted of 5201 adolescent respondents from a national longitudinal study. Logistic sian analyses were used to test the predictive ability of the model for adolescent loneliness. Parent-child relationsips, family structure and selected descriptive characteristics were analyzed for individual and covariate prediction. In Implications for future research and theory development are considered.

Key words: loneliness, adolescents, adolescence, parent-adolescent relationship, family structure, model testing, theory development

While loneliness can occur at any age, adolescence and young adulthood are times of especially high risk. Loneliness is a prevalent and serious problem among American adolescents, affecting between 20% and 50% of all adolescents and young adults. Of particular relevance to nursing are the health consequences of loneliness emerging from the empirical studies in young adults and adolescents (Schwarzer, Jerusalem & Kleine> 1990). Loneliness has been recognized as an antecedent to unfavorable health-risk behavior, such as alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy and physical illness.

The purpose of this article is to present a model of prediction for adolescent loneliness that focuses on the parent-child relationship within contextual environment of the family. Theoretical explanations of adolescent loneliness are presented. A review of loneliness research, including family structure and aspects of the parent-child relationship are also discussed. A brief summary of the results of the study that tested the proposed model is described.

The subjective distress of loneliness has been associated with adverse health-risk behavior such as alcoholism, depression, suicide, substance abuse, and physical illness (Brage & Meredith, 1994; Hagerty & Williams, 1999; Magne-Ingvar & Ojehagen, 1999). Loneliness has also been associated with emotional and behavior problems (Tao, 1998) and teen pregnancy (Klein, 1998). Research indicates that adolescent females engage in risk-taking behavior to relieve feelings of loneliness (Shapiro, Siegel, Scovill & Hays, 1998).

The developmental stage of adolescence has been identified as a particularly difficult transition stage in human development (Blos, 1962; Erikson, 1968; Sullivan, 1953). The developmental tasks associated with the transformation of the attachment bond to parents and the emergence of peer relationships can lead to overwhelming feelings of loneliness among these individuals. Research suggests that loneliness is a more prevalent and serious problem among male and female adolescents than in any other age group (Boldero & Moore, 1990; Pretty, Andrews & Collett, 1994; Mahon, Yarcheski & Yarcheski, 1994).

Rutter ( 1993) reported that of the constellation of forces that influence adolescent health-risk behavior, the most fundamental are the social contexts in which adolescents are embedded with the family and school contexts being the most critical. In a national longitudinal study on adolescent health, Resnik, Bearman, Blum, et al. (1997) reported with notable consistency across the domains of risk that parents and family played a protective role in shaping the health of adolescents.

Family structure and parent-child relationships are important variables to consider in the understanding of adolescent loneliness. Changing family structure and the characteristics of the parent-child relationship may influence the attachment sentiments of adolescents predisposing them to the experience of loneliness. The fact that loneliness has been recognized as a precursor to such unfavorable health-risk behavior as substance abuse, depression, suicide, behavior problems, and physical illness, renders it a clinical phenomenon of importance to nurses. …