Academic journal article Communication Studies

Adolescents' Communicative Goals for Problematic Events: Defining Content and Examining the Influence of Identity Processing Orientations

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Adolescents' Communicative Goals for Problematic Events: Defining Content and Examining the Influence of Identity Processing Orientations

Article excerpt

Adolescence is a time of vast development for individuals as they experiment with adult roles, their own identities, and their relationships with others. As they navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents often focus their efforts on two general life goals: (a) establishing a stable, independent identity, and (b) merging that identity with others in personal relationships (Erikson, 1968). The voluntary friend and romantic relationships that adolescents form, manage, and maintain with others serve as an important set of experiences that contribute to the realization of these general identity-relevant life goals (Jackson & Rodriguez-Tome, 1993; Seiffge-Krenke, Shulman, & Klessinger, 2001; Zani, 1993).

In general, close relationships play an important role in creating, in reinforcing, and in sustaining conceptions and judgments about who an individual is (Aron & Aron, 1996; Miller, Potts, Fung, Hoogstra, & Mintz, 1990). Such relationships also transform and define the boundaries of an individual's self in relation to close others (Fletcher, Fincham, Cramer, & Heron, 1987). While close friend and romantic relationships have positive identity-related functions for adolescents when they are going well, relational difficulties or breakups are often associated with the onset of adolescent depression (Joyner & Udry, 2000; Monroe, Rohde, Seeley, & Lewinsohn, 1999). Moreover, Downey, Bonica, and Rincon (1999) suggested that adolescents might develop a negative view of relationships in general after a single negative relationship experience. Thus, a negative relational experience may have a deleterious effect on an adolescent's sense of self as an individual and as a relational partner.

Understanding how adolescents respond to their relational difficulties may provide insight into how adolescents can avoid both the short- and long-term negative effects of relational disharmony. Yet, while prior research has focused on adolescents' coping behaviors for minor stressors such as failing an exam (Seiffge-Krenke, 1993), or unusually stressful events such as the illness or death of a family member (e.g., Earle, 1979; Meyers & Pitt, 1976), little research has focused on how adolescents manage problems that occur within their close friendships and romantic relationships. Research that has examined adolescents' responses to relational problems has generally focused on those tactics employed in role-played situations (Creasey & Ladd, 2004; Roisman, Padron, Sroufe, & Engeland, 2002) and has not assessed communicators' intentions. As such, those initial communication-related decisions that adolescents make in response to relational problems has been a largely under explored phenomenon.

Our goals for this project are twofold. First, we seek to better understand adolescents' communicative intentions for managing problems that occur in their close relationships. In addition, we seek to better understand what guides adolescents' communicative intentions. Adolescence marks the period in which an individual's identity is continually explored and transformed. While it is generally assumed that an individual's identity is stabilized and developed by the end of adolescence (Markstrom-Adams, 1992; Sanderson & Cantor, 1995), along the way, adolescents vary in the degree to which they understand "who they really are" as individuals and as relational partners. Accordingly, our second goal is to examine whether developmental differences in adolescents' identities serve as an important explanatory mechanism for the nature of adolescents' communicative intentions in responding to relational problems.

While the nature of relational problems can be due to a host of internal and external factors, we wanted to focus this initial investigation on a context that would allow us to examine adolescents' communicative intentions in the face of their own potentially negative relational behavior. …

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