The Relationship between Adolescents' Social Support from Parents and from Peers

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This study investigated the relationship between adolescents' social support from parents and from peers. Social support was conceptualized in several ways (see Cohen & Wills, 1985; Belle, 1998; Baanders, 1992). Emotional and practical support were distinguished (see Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Emotional support includes such activities as personally comforting others and listening sympathetically to their concerns, while an example of practical support is providing help with homework. A further distinction was made between the provision of social support and the experience of that support (Barrera, 1986). Thus, enacted support may or may not be acknowledged by the adolescent.

How do adolescents react if they experience a lack of social support from parents? The case can be made that adolescents compensate by seeking support from peers (Hypothesis 1). Fuligni and Eccles (1993) have stated that "seeking advice from friends can be an attempt to compensate for unsatisfactory relationships with parents." Berndt (1979) has noted that in adverse or stressful situations, poor attachment to parents may be offset by strong attachment to peers. Although adults appear to be the main source of support for children, it has been shown that other children can provide support and help buffer stress (Belle, 1988). For example, when a child has lost both parents, peers can offer emotional security, which indicates that they can function as substitutes when parental support is lacking.

The idea of compensation seems logical from the perspective of the adolescent life cycle. According to Grotevant and Cooper (1986), when children reach adolescence they begin to spend more time with friends without adult supervision. Early adolescents attach more importance to acceptance by peers and increasingly turn to them for advice and comfort. Friendships often fulfill developmental needs at this stage better than do relationships with parents. Thus, adolescents distance themselves from parents and focus more on peers, sometimes to the point where the influence of parents is neutralized. It seems logical, then, that peers, at least in part, would supplant parents in regard to social support.

In terms of social support, what counts is not how much is actually enacted, but what is experienced by the adolescent. When adolescents' perception of parents' support is negative, irrespective of what is enacted, they may look for compensatory support from peers. A negative correlation would thus be expected between perception of parental support and enacted and experienced support from peers.

Contrary to Hypothesis 1, it can be argued that perceived lack of parental support is not compensated by peer support because such compensation is impossible (Hypothesis 2). Meeus (1989) and Meeus and Dekovic (1995) have indicated that the influence of peers is limited to certain areas, especially leisure, while parents are more important in terms of personal relations and school (with regard to occupational identity development, school performance, and social support in adolescence, see Meeus, 1993b). Parental support is often more important for adolescents than is peer support. For example, Meeus (1993a) has concluded that the influence of parental social support on the well-being of adolescents is greater than that of peer support. It may be that the support of parents has functions that cannot be replaced by peer support. Therefore, the perception of parental social support will not influence enacted or experienced peer support; in effect, there will be no correlation at all.

In addition, the case can be made that adolescents who perceive a lack of parental support also lack the opportunity or ability to gain social support from anyone, including peers (Hypothesis 3). According to Schrameyer (1990), lack of parental support has serious consequences. Adolescents in this situation generally have not experienced that asking for support is often rewarded and that it is helpful to involve others in solving personal problems, but rather that problems often can be solved alone. …


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