Family Processes as Predictors of Adolescents' Preferences for Ascribed Sources of Moral Authority: A Proposed Model

Article excerpt

The family unit is endemic to society's functioning. The adolescent, in particular, is a product of familial environment, the primary source of socialization (White, 1993a). Some family systems can foster the development of new attitudes concerning social and moral issues, others may sustain a stabilization of moral preferences, and engineer the dissolution of attitudes toward moral issues. Therefore, if any differences in social and moral values exist across the adolescent population, it is at least, in part, the result of the type of family system in which they are socialized (White, 1993a). A broad aim of this paper is to develop an account of specific family processes as predictors of adolescent preferences for sources of moral authority. This explication will form the basis of a proposed empirical study.

General Systems Theory as a Foundation for the Circumplex Model

General Systems Theory (von Bertanlanffy, 1968; Buckley, 1967) provides the underlying base of many of the formulations used in Olson et al.'s (1983) Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems. Some important elements emphasized by General Systems Theory form the basis of the newly developed model proposed in this paper [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. Here, family cohesion, family adaptability, and family communication are the salient structures which regulate the quantity and quality of sources of moral authority encountered by each family member. First, family cohesion consists of such processes as emotional bonding, decision making, and forming coalitions. In addition, family adaptability is a product of the processes of negotiation styles, role-relationships, and relationship rules. Family communication involves open and problem communication strategies. Systems Theory also discusses the formation of subsystems and system boundaries which assist in the analysis of the complex phenomena of family development and changes of family members' behaviors across the life span. Since Systems Theory acknowledges change in the family, it is a useful tool for understanding adolescent development. For example, the different sources of moral authority to which the adolescent ascribes may be characterized by the adjustment and change of the adolescent's values in relation to society. Further, Systems Theory argues for the concept of feedback control between the family and the wider social environment; thus adolescents encounter both their parents' perceptions and society's evaluations of moral issues which may feedback into their family system. Therefore, the adolescent is potentially exposed to a variety of sources of moral authority.

General Systems Theory is especially appropriate as a framework for examining adolescent moralization within the area of family research for three reasons. First, it acknowledges the multidirectionality of influences within the family. Second, it facilitates the conceptualizations of each person in the family as a developing individual and of the whole family as a changing mix of needs. Finally, it permits conceptualization of the roles played by individuals within various family subsystems (Grotevant & Cooper, 1983, p. 44). The Circumplex Model adopts General Systems Theory as a way to formulate and explain the dynamics of the family, with particular reference to the structures of adaptability, cohesion, and communication (and their associated processes), all of which regulate the amount and quality of interaction adolescents experience with family members and peers. The Circumplex Model provides the theoretical framework for the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale (FACES II) as well as the Parent-Adolescent Communication Scale (PACS) (Olson et al., 1979; Olson, Portner & Bell, 1982; Olson et al., 1983).

The Circumplex Model: Assumptions and Predictions

One of the most important assets of Olson's theoretical model is that hypotheses can be deduced from it and tested. …