Parental Bond and Life Course Transitions from Adolescence to Young Adulthood

By Bucx, Freek; van Wel, Frits | Adolescence, March 22, 2008 | Go to article overview

Parental Bond and Life Course Transitions from Adolescence to Young Adulthood


Bucx, Freek, van Wel, Frits, Adolescence


Whereas the parent-child bond has been studied extensively in children and adolescents, its nature and course in late adolescence and young adulthood have received less empirical attention (Arnett, 2000; Hagestad, 1987; Van Wel, Ter Bogt, & Raaijmakers, 2002). Particularly scarce are longitudinal studies tracking continuity and changes in the parental bond from adolescence to young adulthood (Berger & Fend, 2005). Based on the small number of studies to date, it can be roughly concluded that adolescents and young adults maintain reasonably good relationships with their parents over time, and that their well-being remains affected by the quality of their relationship with parents (Rossi & Rossi, 1990; Thornton, Orbuch, & Axinn, 1995; Van Wel et al., 2002).

This general conclusion may require some refinement, however, as several studies point to fluctuations or changes in the parent-child relationship during late adolescence and young adulthood. Several authors (Aquilino, 1997, 1999; Buhl 2000; Smollar & Youniss, 1989) have identified life course transitions as giving rise to such fluctuations or changes. Late adolescence and especially young adulthood are characterized by important transitions involving increased social integration within two important life domains: romantic relationships and family formation, and the domain of occupation (Cooksey & Rindfuss, 2001).

The present study investigates how adolescents' and young adults' life course stage affects this relationship with their parents. The results of a three-wave longitudinal study of the parental bond and life course transitions of Dutch adolescents and young adults (aged 12-24 years at Wave 1) over a six-year period are presented.

Theory and Hypotheses

Hypotheses concerning effects of adolescents' and young adults' life course transitions on the parental bond can be derived from three prominent theoretical perspectives with psychological and sociological origins: inviduation theory, role identity theory, and theories concerning stressors on the parent-child relationship.

According to individuation theory (Blos, 1979; Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Youniss & Smollar, 1985), a key developmental task in adolescence is the attainment of autonomy (social, emotional, and cognitive) in various life domains, and in this process, the formation of one's own identity. Biological and cognitive maturational processes in early adolescence, together with having more close contacts with peers, are assumed to give rise to processes of individuation and transformation of the parent-child relationship (Steinberg, 1996).

Individuation theory states that inviduation and transformation of the parental bond is an important task not only in adolescence, but also in young adulthood (Buhl, 2000; Smollar & Youniss, 1989; Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Transitions such as leaving the parental home, getting married, becoming a parent, entering the labor market, and establishing financial independence can be seen as "motors" (Buhl, 2000) in a more general process whereby young people take up adult responsibilities and become increasingly less dependent on their parents' resources. These theoretical notions of individuation suggest that the relationship between parents and their children becomes less close and less important during this life course phase, as the young adult's dependence on parents decreases and his or her concerns shift to career advancement, to romantic relationships, and to family formation. However, it seems unlikely that such processes lead to radical disengagement, as earlier individuation theorists (Blos, 1979) have hypothesized.

On the other hand, role identity theory (Stryker, 1968) suggests that emotional closeness between children and their parents is positively influenced by life course transitions. As adolescents and young adults move into the same adult roles as their parents, their experiences become similar to those of their parents. …

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