Psychosocial Development During Adolescence
- Intimacy as an Adolescent Issue
Theoretical Perspectives on Adolescent Intimacy
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Sullivan's view of interpersonal development during adolescence
Erikson's view of intimacy
- 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
- 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.
- Erikson and Sullivan: Conflicting views?
Attachment in adolescence
- 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
- Erikson, on the other hand, theorized that identity formation comes before
- 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.
The Development of Intimacy 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
- Psychologists have found that adolescents who have developed secure bonds
with caregivers are psychosocially healthier than adolescents who have formed
- Changes in the nature of friendship
Changes in the display of intimacy
- 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.
Changes in the "targets" 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.
- As the capacity for intimacy grows during adolescence so does
the number of people with whom young people are intimate.
- 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.
Other individuals as target of intimacy
- 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.
- 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.
Friendships with the other sex:
- On surveys, a majority of adolescents list at least one extended family
member as someone who plays an important role in their lives.
Dating and Romance
- 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.
Intimacy and Adolescent Psychosocial Development
- 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
- 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
- The status phase involves dating based on maintaining peer group
- The intimate phase involves the formation of true romantic attachments.
- The bonding phase focuses more on commitment and growth in romantic
- 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.
- 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.