Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"I Count My Parents among My Best Friends": Youths' Bonds with Parents and Friends in the Netherlands

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"I Count My Parents among My Best Friends": Youths' Bonds with Parents and Friends in the Netherlands

Article excerpt

In the 1960s the generation gap was a subject of intense discussion. Bikers, provos, hippies--one youth culture after another defied the taboos of the older generation. Youth researchers therefore expected that conflicts between parents and youth would lend themselves to abundant substantiation (Elder, 1980). After a time, however, it had to be concluded that theories that connected adolescence with notions about sturm und drang, identity crisis, and the generation gap were not finding empirical support (Coleman, 1978). In contrast to what was contended in psychoanalytically inspired theories about the adolescent's striving for greater autonomy from parents (Erikson, 1968), most youth seemed to weather the process of maturation without undue difficulty. The thesis of a conflict between the generations was due for revision.

In Western Europe and the United States, the generations now coexist in a political climate that is considerably more tranquil than in the sixties. In the Netherlands, for instance, youth conform to contemporary trends among the older generation, favoring economic conservatism, cultural progressiveness, and political tolerance (Raaijmakers, 1993). In fact, they view adults more favorably than they view their peers (Maassen & De Goede, 1992), attributing positively regarded qualities, with the exception of idealism and optimism, more to elders, and negative qualities more to the young. The favorable image that Dutch youth hold of adults in general says but little about their relations with their own parents, however.

Towards the end of the 1980s, Van der Linden and Dijkman (1989) found that 91% of their Dutch respondents (aged 12-21 years) reported getting along at least reasonably well with their fathers and 96% with their mothers (in response to the question: "Do you get along well with your parents?"). Comparable percentages have been found in other Dutch studies in the past two decades (Van der Linden, 1991). Fairly good relations between youth and their parents have also been documented in large-scale self-report surveys of youth in other Western countries, such as the United States, Germany, and England (Allerbeck & Hoag, 1985; Douvan & Adelson, 1966; Offer, Ostrov, Howard, & Atkinson, 1988; Rutter, Graham, Chadwick, & Yule, 1976; Schlegel & Barry, 1991).

According to Montemayor (1990), American research spanning a period of more than 50 years suggests that problems between youth and parents tend to be limited to everyday domestic frictions. Overall, it appears that "generation conflict" is too global a term for the incidental, temporary, and relatively trivial disagreements that characterize relations between most youth and their parents, not only in the United States but also in the Netherlands (De Hart, 1992).

Recent theoretical contemplations try to take these empirical findings into account. In contrast to orthodox analytic views (Freud, 1958), neoanalytical theories emphasize the process of adolescent individuation rather than detachment, and, according to other empirically oriented writings, adolescents develop autonomy without severing their emotional bond to their parents (Steinberg, 1990). For instance, Grotevant and Cooper (1986) studied the co-occurrence of individuation in family relationships and mutual connectedness between adolescents and parents. According to Youniss and Smollar (1985), during adolescence the relationship between the generations is transformed from one of relatively unilateral authority to one of cooperative negotiation.

Although parent-adolescent relations do not appear to be inherently conflictual, few would doubt that adolescence is a period of heightened tension between young persons and their parents. According to Steinberg (1987, 1988, 1990), early adolescence--the period of pubertal maturation--leads to diminished levels of positive interaction and a modest increase in distance in the parent-adolescent relationship. …

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