Academic journal article Family Relations

Technology-Mediated Communication with Siblings during the Transition to College: Associations with Relationship Positivity and Self-Disclosure

Academic journal article Family Relations

Technology-Mediated Communication with Siblings during the Transition to College: Associations with Relationship Positivity and Self-Disclosure

Article excerpt

Sibling relationships are among individuals' longest lasting relationships and are important for well-being across the life span (Cicirelli, 1995). Siblings are frequent companions during childhood (McHale & Crouter, 1996) and adolescence (Updegraff, McHale, Whiteman, Thayer, & Delgado, 2005), and they remain central to the lives of many adults (Gold, 1989; Spitze & Trent, 2006). Despite decreasing contact and proximity during adulthood (Carstensen, 1992; White, 2001), for many people siblings continue to play a particularly important role during major life events and transitions such as marriage, the birth of children, divorce, and the death of family members (Connidis, 1992). However, some sibling relationships are considerably apathetic and disconnected by the time adulthood arrives (Gold, 1989). Although this may stem from a continuation of relationships that were distant during childhood (McGuire, McHale, & Updegraff, 1996), there is some evidence that siblings may become less close during adulthood as a result of new sibling rivalries related to parental differential treatment (e.g., Suitor, Gilligan, & Pillemer, 2013). However, only in rare cases do siblings actually react negatively to parental differential treatment (Kowal, Krull, & Kramer, 2006). Thus, other important processes may contribute to siblings' abilities to maintain positive and involved relationships with one another through later stages of life.

An investigation of sibling relationships during the initial transition out of the family home may be a particularly fruitful avenue by which to better understand why some siblings eventually driftapart while others remain close through old age. According to Erikson's (1968) theory of psychosocial development, a major task for late adolescents is the development of an integrated identity based on both prior familial relationships and individual exploration. This requires a recentering of close relationships, whereby peer and romantic relationships gain prominence as ties with parents (Tanner, 2006) and siblings (Conger&Little, 2010) decline. Put more specifically, siblings experience a significant reduction in companionship (Scharf, Shulman, & Avigad-Spitz, 2005), communication (White, 2001), and conflict (Whiteman, McHale, & Crouter, 2011), which are often initiated by the departure from the family home. A possible catalyst for this initial separation for many emerging adults is college attendance, as a large minority (40%) of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014). Given the suddenly more voluntary nature of sibling engagement during this time, the initial transition to college may shed important light on the development of relationship maintenance patterns that could set up siblings for their relationship as adults (Aquilino, 2006).

Technology and Family Relationships

Unfortunately, little is known about how siblings maintain their relationships during the initial transition out of the family home; however, many different technologies are available to help siblings maintain communication, and college students who move away from the family home may be one group that relies heavily on these methods (Conger & Little, 2010). As Hertlein (2012) proposed in her multitheoretical model addressing the intersections between technology and family life, technology introduces additional avenues for family interaction, which may have important consequences for our interpretation of family relationship qualities as well as our methods of relationship maintenance. Sociotechnological theory (Lanigan, 2009) suggests that information and communication technologies (ICTs) may influence these aspects of family relationships to varying degrees based on ICT characteristics, individual traits, and family-wide factors. Specifically, ICTs allow for two possible types of communication (Hertlein, 2012; Rabby & Walther, 2003): synchronous and asynchronous. …

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