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Social Development

Adolescence And Adulthood: Completing The Cycle

Whereas opposite-sex interactions are infrequent in childhood, they increase during adolescence. Much of this increase is due to the emergence of romantic attraction, which is a product of both biology (i.e., pubertal maturation) and societal standards. Adolescent dating can be both a positive and negative socializing influence—it can be a source of intimacy, expanded social competency, and heightened self-esteem and peer status, but it can also be a source of jealousy, abuse, and damage to self-esteem. Adolescent romantic relationships are based upon many of the same principles as children's friendships (such as mutual liking, positive behavior, and proximity seeking), but physical attractiveness also becomes important in the selection of romantic partners. Although the rule that opposites attract may sometimes apply, adolescent romantic relationships (like childhood friendships) are typically characterized by similarity in race, academic achievement, activities, attitudes, and physical attractiveness.

In adolescence there is also an increasing desire for autonomy—of separating from parents and becoming an independent adult. This desire may lead to heightened family conflict (e.g., arguments about time spent with peers) and defiant behaviors (e.g., affiliation with antisocial peers and engagement in delinquent activities). These manifestations of autonomy striving have resulted in the frequent use of the term "adolescent storm" in referring to this age. The intensity of this storm, however, is heavily influenced by parenting styles (e.g., authoritative parenting is associated with less problematic autonomy development), family characteristics (e.g., single-parent and divorced families may impede autonomy or intensify conflict), peer relations (e.g., dating and involvement with peers are frequent sources of conflict), cultural values (e.g., the importance placed on autonomy and deference to parents affect the occurrence and expression of conflict), and generational differences (e.g., differences between parents and children in beliefs about appropriate behavior may be a frequent source of conflict). Healthy individuation involves a gradual shifting of balance between autonomy and connectedness with parents—of gaining independence while maintaining quality relationships with parents.

The importance of romantic relationships and individuation during adolescence is congruent with events common in adulthood—marriage and beginning one's own family. The characteristics of these relationships are based upon previous social learning. Adults often interact within their romantic relationships in a manner similar to how their parents interacted with each other, because as children they observed these interactions. Direct experiences with parents and peers also affect these relationships. For example, securely attached children are more likely to be securely attached with their spouses in adulthood, and childhood friendships based on intimacy and trust are likely to foster these types of relationships with later romantic partners. These past experiences also influence parenting behavior. Thus, the familial environment in which a child is raised is to some extent replicated in the environment these adults provide for their children, though relations with peers and romantic partners modify this continuity.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7Social Development - Infancy And Preschool: An Emphasis On Biology And Parenting, Childhood And Early Adolescence: An Emphasis On Peers