Many researchers have suggested that children are able to increase their capacity to deal with aversive stressors through the use of social support (Cauce, Reed, Landesman, & Gonzales, 1990; Cutrona, 1990; Sandler, Miller, Short, & Wolchik, 1989; Thoits, 1986; Wills, Vaccaro, & McNamara, 1992). Thoits (1986) has attempted to reconceptualize social support as coping assistance in an effort to understand underlying mechanisms. Coping assistance can be defined as the active participation of significant others in helping the child manage stressful situations. Coping assistance and social support appear to have several common factors. Both are aimed at managing or changing stressful situations, alleviating or reducing negative feelings that usually accompany exposure to stress, and attempting to resolve problems.
Researchers have identified three different types of assistance individuals need in order to facilitate coping with and adapting to change (Cobb, 1976; Cohen & Wills, 1985; Cutrona, 1990). Emotional support is defined as information parents provide to their children to indicate that they love and care for them (Cobb, 1976; Cohen & Wills, 1985), whereas esteem support is defined as information parents provide to their children to indicate that they value them (Cobb, 1976; Cohen & Wills, 1985; Cutrona, 1990). Instrumental or problem-focused support is a combination of tangible aid (Cohen & Wills, 1985) and information (Cutrona, 1990). These forms of support have been found to be necessary for enhancing the child's well-being (Moran & Eckenrode, 1991; Wills, Vacarro, & McNamara, 1992). Children feel cared for and valued when parents are willing to spend time with them, which may alleviate some of their negative feelings. Feeling that they are part of a family network serves to reduce children's sense of isolation (Cobb, 1976).
There is some evidence that parents' coping assistance is maintained into adolescence, although (developmentally) adolescents are spending less time with their families, more time with peers, and appear to be becoming more autonomous. Still, recent studies (Hoffman, Ushpiz, & Levy-Shiff, 1988; Pipp, Shaver, Jennings, Lamborn, & Fischer, (1985) found that adolescents consider themselves close to their parents and turn to them for guidance and support or comfort. Adolescents turned to peers for help only when parents were unavailable.
Whereas researchers have defined social support as provision of needed information, much of the research concerning its effect on adolescent functioning has measured the size of adolescents' social networks and/or the perception of availability of such support (Aro, Hanninen, & Paronen, 1989; Barrera & Garrison-Jones, 1992; Bell, LeRoy, & Stephenson, 1982; Dean & Lin, 1977; Hoffman, Ushpiz & Levy-Shiff, 1988; Wilcox, 1981). Results of other studies also have suggested that it is the perception of availability of support that serves to protect the individual from the negative consequences of stress (Cohen & Towbes, 1988; Cohen & Wills, 1985; Cummins, 1988; Wethington & Kessler, 1986). Cutrona (1990) and Thoits (1986) both proposed that the type of assistance offered has to be congruent with the individual's need. Additionally, Jessor (1993), in his developmental behavior science paradigm, proposed that the subjective experience of the adolescent needs to be one of several concerns when considering behavior. However, studies have seldom measured actual support requested and/or received. Instead, most studies frequently measure the general perception of parental availability. Thus, it seems useful to identify the type of support adolescents request from their parents and their perceptions of the help received.
Much of the current research concerning social support deals with populations of students in junior and senior high school. Little information is available concerning characteristics of two-year college students (Blocker, Plummer, & Richardson, 1965). …