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Adolescence, 6/e
Laurence Steinberg, Temple University

Psychosocial Development During Adolescence

Chapter Outline

  1. Intimacy as an Adolescent Issue
    • Children's friendships tend to be activity based and not focused on concerns like honesty and self-disclosure.
    • As the emphasis on the peer group grows in adolescence, so does the emphasis on close relationships with both same sex and opposite sex peers.
    • This increasing emphasis on intimacy in relationships is supported by the adolescent's social cognitive capabilities and the young person's growing independence.
  2. Theoretical Perspectives on Adolescent Intimacy
    • There are three important perspectives on development of intimacy during adolescence: Harry Stack Sullivan's interpersonal perspective, Erik Erikson's psychosocial perspective, and the attachment perspective.
    1. Sullivan's theory of interpersonal development
      • Harry Stack Sullivan's interpersonal approach to development emphasized the interpersonal needs that emerge through the course of childhood and adolescence.
      • Sullivan believed that the satisfaction of interpersonal needs lead to feelings of security, while the frustration of interpersonal needs lead to feelings of anxiety. According to Sullivan, this process is cumulative, such that children who do not have their interpersonal needs met will have difficulty finding security in interpersonal relationships during adolescence.
      1. Sullivan's view of interpersonal development during adolescence
        • Sullivan believed that the need for intimacy first arises in preadolescence in same-sex friendships.
        • The onset of puberty brings with it the new need for sexual contact and intimacy in opposite sex friendships in early adolescence.
        • By late adolescence, the young person is ready to find a place in the adult world.
    2. Erikson's view of intimacy
      • Erik Erikson's psychosocial view of human development posits that adolescence is the pivotal developmental period for figuring out who you are and what you can become (identity versus identity diffusion).
      • Once this psychosocial crisis has been handled successfully, the young person is capable of entering into a truly intimate relationship during young adulthood (intimacy versus isolation).
      • In Erikson's view one can not be truly intimate until he or she has a sense of identity.
      1. Erikson and Sullivan: Conflicting views?
        • It appears that Sullivan and Erikson are saying different things about the development of intimacy and identity.
        • Sullivan suggested that the development of intimacy precedes the development of identity.
        • Erikson, on the other hand, theorized that identity formation comes before intimacy.
        • Empirical investigations into the question suggest that the two psychosocial processes of intimacy and identity are intertwined and it is more accurate to say that their development overlaps. Hence, the development of one does not clearly come before or after the development of the other.
    3. Attachment in adolescence
      • Attachment theorists look at how early caregiver-infant bonds influence later interpersonal relationships.
      • They theorize that humans develop internal working models of relationships based on early experiences and that these models guide our behavior in future relationships.
      • Psychologists have found that adolescents who have developed secure bonds with caregivers are psychosocially healthier than adolescents who have formed insecure attachments.
  3. The Development of Intimacy in Adolescence
    1. Changes in the nature of friendship
      • Young children's conceptions of friendship differ from the conceptions of older children and adolescents.
      • Young children's notions about friendship are more activity based.
      • It is not until late childhood and early adolescence that a growing emphasis is placed on issues such as loyalty, trust and honesty. Therefore, it is not until adolescence that young people begin to think of friends as people you can be intimate with.
      • Further, psychologists have found that issues of loyalty and rejection are particularly salient in the friendships of female adolescents.
    2. Changes in the display of intimacy
      • Not only do older children and adolescents think more about their friendships in terms of closeness and intimacy, they also act more intimately in interpersonal situations.
      • Older children and adolescents tend to know more intimate information about their friends than younger children, and they tend to act more empathically toward friends than younger children.
    3. Changes in the "targets" of intimacy
      • As the capacity for intimacy grows during adolescence so does the number of people with whom young people are intimate.
      1. Parents and peers as target of intimacy
        • Intimacy with friends and romantic partners increases throughout the course of adolescence and eventually exceeds intimacy with parents.
        • Intimacy with parents decreases until middle adolescence and then increases slightly into young adulthood.
        • The most intimate parent-child relationships are mother-child relationships, likely due to the amount of contact that mothers have with their children in comparison to fathers.
        • In terms of social support, it appears that parents and friends both provide important forms of emotional assistance during adolescence. Whether or not the assistance is used is dependent on the issue at hand.
      2. Other individuals as target of intimacy
        • Little is known about the level of intimacy in adolescent's relationships with siblings and extended family. Research evidence suggests that adolescents feel as close to their favorite sibling as they do to their best friend.
        • On surveys, a majority of adolescents list at least one extended family member as someone who plays an important role in their lives.
    4. Friendships with the other sex:
      • The importance of opposite-sex friendships is really not evident until late adolescence.
      • During the earlier part of adolescence, young people tend to prefer same-sex friends due to the awkwardness and confusion that accompany opposite-sex interactions, and gender differences in activities.
      • As intimate relationships between opposite-sex peers do emerge, they tend to emerge in a dating context.
  4. Dating and Romance
    • There is very little empirical research looking at how dating relationships influence adolescent development.
    • Females tend to enter opposite-sex relationships with a more developed capacity for intimacy than males, and so expect intimate relationships more than males do. It may be that females play an important role in introducing males to openness and sensitivity in interpersonal relationships.
    • Dating among adolescents in the United States is an informal, superficial experience.
    • Some writers suggest that instead of promoting true intimacy among contemporary young people, especially young adults, dating promotes a surface type of intimacy that lacks emotional depth and commitment.
    • This is not surprising given that dating among adolescents no longer serves the courtship purpose that it once did. Today, most adolescents date to have fun, not to find a mate.
    • Dating can take a variety of forms in adolescence.
    • It appears that the most beneficial form for young adolescent females is group dating. Dating in groups provides a comfortable context for learning about the opposite sex while reducing pressure to become involved sexually. Young adolescent females who begin exclusive dating early tend to be less socially developed than female adolescents who put off exclusive dating until later. Also, female adolescents who don't date seem to suffer in regard to psychosocial development.
    • Adolescents appear to follow four phases in the way they think about and behave in romantic relationships.
    • The infatuation phase is typified by superficial short-lived romantic involvements.
    • The status phase involves dating based on maintaining peer group status.
    • The intimate phase involves the formation of true romantic attachments.
    • The bonding phase focuses more on commitment and growth in romantic relationships.
    • Sexual-minority youth face more challenges in the development of intimate relationships.
    • Due to harassment and prejudices of others, sexual-minority youth find it difficult to be publicly open about intimate or romantic involvements with the same sex.
  5. Intimacy and Adolescent Psychosocial Development
    • Close relationships play an important role in psychosocial development in adolescence. In regard to identity development, friends allow each other to explore possibilities and provide feedback about what is possible.
    • Adolescents who report having at least one close friendship report higher levels of self-esteem than ones who do not. However, it should be kept in mind that not all peer relationships are positive. Those that foster insecurity and conflict will likely create more harm than good.