Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Parental Attachment and Adjustment to Higher Learning Institutions the Role of Stress for a Malaysian Sample of Late Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Parental Attachment and Adjustment to Higher Learning Institutions the Role of Stress for a Malaysian Sample of Late Adolescents

Article excerpt

Late adolescence is often marked by the entry into and attendance at postsecondary institutions of higher learning, such as colleges and polytechnical institutes. For many late adolescents in countries with vast land areas (e.g., the United States, Australia, China, Malaysia), attending higher learning institutions also involves a physical separation from parents, because the adolescents must leave their family homes and move to wherever the institutions are located. In more developed countries, such as the United States, adolescents typically make intracountry moves because their higher learning institutions are often just located in a different part of the same state or in a different state, but within the same country. On the other hand, in less developed countries, such as Malaysia, it is not uncommon for adolescents to make intercountry moves to pursue higher education in a foreign country whose institutions are, or at least are perceived to be, more reputable.

Attending higher learning institutions can pose adjustment difficulties, not only related to intracountry moves but perhaps more so for intercountry moves, where the adolescents' identities and benefits of citizenship often no longer apply. As noted by various researchers (e.g., Kenny & Donaldson, 1991; Lapsley, Rice, & FitzGerald, 1990), attending higher learning institutions--whether intra- or intercountry--often marks adloescents' first significant separation from parents. There are, therefore, adjustment challenges related to living apart from parents, such as attending to all of one's own affairs in an environment wherein parents are not immediately available for help. Compounding these challenges is the reduction in the quantity and quality of many nonfamilial relationships (e.g., friendships) during this period, which leads adolescents to actually be more dependent on parents (Larose & Boivin, 1998). There are also additional challenges related to the setting and demands of higher education that can be quite daunting. Higher learning institutions are often large and impersonal places, where the emphasis on academic achievement can easily induce stress (Santrock, 2005). Such institutions are also characterized by flexible time schedules that can be socially challenging and can easily lead to a sense of alienation. Not surprisingly, adolescents who are just beginning their higher education report various difficulties, such as loneliness (Cutrona, 1982) and problems with academic adjustment (Rice, 1991).

Adjustment challenges related to attending higher learning institutions have thus become a point of interest among psychologists and counselors in particular. One theoretical framework that has been advocated for (Bartholomew & Thompson, 1995; Pistole, 1989) and applied to an understanding of these institutional adjustments is attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969). Two key tenets of attachment theory regarding the functions of an attachment figure, secure base and safe haven--aptly illustrated in the renowned strange situation formulation of Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978)--are proposed as particularly relevant. Relating to Ainsworth et al.'s (1978) work on attachment dynamics, Kenny (1987) provided a critical conceptual bridge when she likened late adolescents' experiences with attending higher learning institutions to the strange situation that is typically applied to very young children. In Kenny's parallel formulation, attending higher learning institutions is viewed as an opportunity to separate from one's parents (attachment figures) while still using those same parents as a secure base to explore a totally new environment as well as retaining the possibility of the return to the parental safe haven should the exploration prove excessively distressing.

The empirical evidence for Kenny's theoretical proposal thus far is rather convincing. Using different adjustment indices, Kenny and her colleagues (Kenny, 1987; Kenny & Donaldson, 1991; Kenny & Rice, 1995) as well as others (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987; Lapsley et al. …

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