Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Linking Micro- and Macro-Transitions: A Case Study on Systemic Family Processes during Adolescents' Transition to High School

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Linking Micro- and Macro-Transitions: A Case Study on Systemic Family Processes during Adolescents' Transition to High School

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The main goal of this paper is to observe how family interactive reorganizations (micro-transitions) are amplified by adolescent childrens transition to high school (macro-transition) and reverberates through the whole family system involving parents and siblings. In-home video-recorded interviews and interactive tasks were carried out with families during 1 year before and after adolescents entered high school. The collected material was transcribed and analyzed according to inductive and microanalytical procedures. Results document how families having different subsystem composition (with or without siblings) get reorganized in different ways when facing the school transition: Families having a second-born child do not get reorganized on that event, as changes revolved around the lives of first-borns. Starting from these observations, I discuss implications for a systemic and ecological approach to generate new ideas on the study of family processes during life-course changes.

KEYWORDS: family processes, micro-transitions, adolescence, school transition, macro-transition, siblings, microanalysis, observation


The present study is intended to investigate how families change and adapt in their everyday interactive and communicative processes, named micro-transitions during adolescents' school entry, defined as macro-transitions. Sharing an ecological and family systems approach, I documented how individual changes afforded by the adolescents reverberate throughout the system, also affecting parents and siblings reciprocal interactions. In order to do so, I devised a longitudinal case study based on observational methods involving families with either a single adolescent child or a second-born adolescent child with and older sibling.


Most literature on school transitions has related school entry to a number of psychosocial outcomes (Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabbani, 2001; Barber & Olsen, 2004; Weiss & Bearman, 2007). These studies have examined specifically the individual experiences of the child in transition, leaving the implications of this event for the other family members underexplored. How does the whole family reorganize to deal with such event?

According to ecological and systems approaches (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Minuchin, 2002; Thelen & Smith, 1994), individual transitions do not occur in a void; they are instead embedded in a larger environmental framework that accounts for transformations of both individuals and systems. Breunlin, Pinsof, Russel, and Lebow (2011) have pointed out that normative transitions, such as school entry, correspond to macro-transitions, while smaller leaps constitute micro-transitions, characterized by negotiation processes detectable in the course of everyday interactions between family members. In this line, school entry can be conceptualized as times when developmental changes are embedded in real life, thereby corresponding to processes in motion and finding their expression in daily interactions and communicative exchanges (Granic, Hollenstein, Dishion, & Patterson, 2003).

In previous studies, my colleagues and I (Everri, Fruggeri, & Molinari, 2014; Molinari, Everri, & Fruggeri, 2010) have provided evidence on the notion of micro-transitions. Through the analyses of in-home video-recorded family interactions of adolescents and their families, we documented that micro-transitions correspond to interactive exchanges during which family transformations and reorganizations occur. We identified two interactive patterns of micro-transitions in particular, labeled stormy and drifting. Both of these patterns are characterized by family members' oscillations between different positions. Through the metaphor of a storm, we described how families in the midst of change exhibit lively alternations between various stances, which, from time to time, oppose one another--for instance, being compliant and yet challenging. …

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