Psychosocial development: the role of the family

Many changes occur during adolescence. Some of these are given by society and are thus normative for all adolescents (the same for all adolescents). Other changes occur within the individual, such as biological changes, changes in the way of thinking and an increase in thinking capabilities. These changes have consequences for social processes and vice versa. The two most important social contexts are family and peers

Families with adolescents

According to the Storm and Stress approach of Blos and Freud, among others, adolescence is characterized by the release process: the loosening of the infantile parental bonds, which Blos also calls the second separation-individuation. This would be accompanied by conflict between adolescents and parents, with rebelliousness and rebellion. Too close and harmonious a relationship with parents during this period would indicate intrapsychic problems and stagnant growth towards adulthood. In young people, an increasing prevalence of clinical disorders and various types of psychosocial problems is found during adolescence.

Adolescence is the most stressful period for 65% of parents. Mothers find puberty more difficult than fathers. Parents of daughters find it harder than parents of sons. Young people’s need to question parental authority can be confusing for parents. The development of autonomy is perceived by some parents as an attack on the family system and on their role as educators. For many parents, the role as educator is an important part of their self-definition and so conflicts with children can be accompanied by feelings of loss, feelings of being less valuable and influential. Parents also find themselves in mid-life crisis during adolescence.

The Storm and Stress approach has been rejected. The majority of young people do not experience serious and long-term conflicts. Furthermore, it is often not a sudden deterioration, but a continuation of problems from earlier periods.
Relationships with parents change from a unilateral, hierarchical relationship to a more equal relationship.

Parenting in adolescence

Parenting behavior is characterized using two central dimensions: support and control. These two correspond to the most important functions that parents fulfill.

  1. Providing a nurturing, protective environment in which the child can develop (support). Such as love and care, acceptance, helping, working together; and
  2. Transfer of knowledge, values and norms and both structures (parental control).

Negative aspects of control are the setting of strict rules that do not allow the child freedom of movement , the use of power in the form of punishment and prohibition. This is also called authoritarian control and is negatively related to the child’s social and cognitive competence. Positive aspects of control are providing reasons and explanations as to why something should or should not be done, by providing information and instructions (induction) and by appealing to the child’s responsibility and independence (demandingness). This is also called authoritative control and has a positive effect on the child’s development.

A distinction is also made between psychological control and behavioral control. Psychological control inhibits the development towards autonomy and is negatively related to adequate psychosocial functioning. It is a risk factor for internalizing problems. Behavioral control is the inhibition of behavior. With too little behavioral control, problems such as disobedience, aggression, delinquency and drug use can arise.

Parenting can also be described in terms of styles :

  • The authoritative parenting style: warm and supportive but also limits.
  • The authoritarian parenting style: Little discussion, many rules without explanation, obedience. Less warm and sensitive.
  • Permissive parenting style: warm, accepting. Hardly any demands, no punishments.
  • Indifferent parenting style: little involvement or interest.

This typology approach has the disadvantage that the entire variation in upbringing is reduced to 4 categories. It is also currently impossible to find out which specific parenting behaviors are particularly important for the child’s development.

Parenting style is therefore broader than parenting behavior because it involves more aspects of parent-child relationship than just behavior, namely also the emotional attitude, acceptance or rejection and attachment to the child. It is a better predictor of adolescent development than parenting behavior.

Mothers show more affection, are more responsive and show more involvement than fathers (in the Netherlands). There are also differences between boys and girls in terms of parenting behavior. Parents later appear to have more warm feelings and are more supportive of their daughter than of their son. Boys are raised in a more authoritarian manner.

As adolescence approaches, changes in parenting behavior occur. There is more negotiation. Induction (providing explanations, pointing out the consequences) fits well with the needs of the child in the primary school period, but less well in adolescence. During adolescence, more control through monitoring: supervising and being aware of the daily ins and outs of the young person and knowing what interests and occupies the young person.

Parents who exercise control characterized by open negotiation and mutual discussion stimulate social and cognitive skills in their children that are also necessary for functioning outside the family. Restrictive control: young people obey to avoid punishment and not because they have internalized their parents’ norms and rules.

Education that includes both warmth and democratic authority seems to best meet young people’s need to find a balance between individuality and connectedness. Parents and young people often view parenting and other aspects of family life differently. A possible explanation for this is that parents invest more in family life than young people and are therefore inclined to emphasize the positive aspects. Young people also tend to highlight the negative aspects because they are in the middle of the process of detaching themselves from the family. This discrepancy is smallest at the beginning and end of adolescence, and largest in the middle. This is because in mid-adolescence, peers become more important. Education can best be understood as a dynamic system of mutual (bidirectional) influence, also known as transactional influence.

Parent-child relationship: attachment and conflict

Two frequently studied indicators of the quality of the parent-adolescent relationship are the attachment between the adolescent and the parents, and the conflicts in this relationship.

Attachment Detachment from parents is seen as one of the most important developmental tasks in adolescence, in addition to building one’s own identity. Research shows that there appears to be a less close bond. The amount of time a young person spends with the family decreases significantly. However, the amount of time young people spend talking to parents about intimate and important topics is actually increasing. So it makes more sense to look at the quality than the amount of time.

Attachment is a long-term, intense, emotional bond, originally mainly between babies and young children and their mother. Attachment experiences with different attachment figures are integrated into an internal working model of attachment. This is a blueprint for new social relationships. The attachment relationships are slowly but surely deteriorating in quality. Girls have better attachment relationships than boys, boys have better attachment relationships with their mothers than with their fathers. The reduced quality is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. There is a negative relationship between the quality of the affective relationship with the parents and the problem behavior of young people. But this is also a mutual influence.


Due to the increasing independence of young people, disagreements with parents cannot always be avoided. Previously, an inverted U-shaped course of conflicts was assumed. But this is not correct. From early to middle adolescence, conflicts decrease in frequency, but increase in emotional intensity. After middle adolescence, these decrease even more, but the emotional intensity remains the same. Most conflicts with mothers (especially girls). The topics of conflict are related to everyday aspects of family life. This type of conflict arises because young people have a greater need to develop more autonomy. In families in which the parents are seen as unsupportive or rejecting, more conflicts are present. Many conflicts are about parental control: young people want more freedom than their parents are willing to allow.

Opinions about the consequences of conflicts are very divided. Having a conflict is seen as a normal aspect of development (normative), as important for psychosocial growth (healthy) or as an indicator of problems in the parent-child relationship (unhealthy). Some argue that close relationships are more likely to be characterized by conflict.

The family as a system of relationships

The relationship between siblings
The brother-sister relationship is generally seen as an emotionally charged relationship, in which conflict and rivalry go hand in hand with love and support. Strong influence of the family constellation (the entire network of siblings) on personality traits and social relationships. But there is little empirical support.

Nowadays, a lot of attention is paid to the quality of the relationship and a process approach is used i. pv a structural approach. The structure is stable (the number of siblings does not change). The quality of the relationship does show changes during adolescence. Increase in the number of conflicts during early adolescence that decreases again in late adolescence. The explanation for this is that children are all in different stages of development at the beginning of adolescence. This is supported by empirical research.

The quality of relationships with brothers/sisters appears to influence relationships with peers. They take experiences from these relationships to relationships outside the family. Positive brother/sister relationships can lead to: high social competence, positive self-image and protection against problem behavior. Negative brother/sister relationships can lead to: the development and continuation of internalizing and externalizing problems. This negative influence runs from the oldest to the youngest child. Young people who have an older sister/brother with problem behavior are more likely to exhibit this as well.

The family as a wholeThe functioning of the family as a whole has both a direct and indirect influence on the development of the young person. Indirectly influenced means that the functioning of the family influences the quality of parenting behavior of the individual parents, which in turn influences the functioning of the young person.
The following processes pose a risk to the functioning of the family:

  • (In)adequate hierarchical structure within the family.
  • (Lack of) involvement between family members.
  • (Dis)functional communication processes: Research shows that family communication is even more important than family hierarchy.
  • (Problems with) loyalty between parents and children: There are also long-term effects of disturbed relationships between children and parents. These disturbed relationships are projections from the past. Normally children and parents are loyal to each other. Problems arise if this is not in balance. An extreme case is ‘parentification’, the child takes on the tasks and responsibilities and the role of the parent. Or overprotection. There may also be: split loyalties (if the parents both expect something different from the child).

It is assumed that the functioning of each individual family member is inextricably linked to the functioning of the other members of the family.

Hierarchical structure within the family There must be a clear hierarchy in a family. Family consists of different subsystems . The parental subsystem is the most important and belongs at the top. They have the most power and decision-making authority, but also the most responsibility.

The dysfunction of the parental subsystem can take different forms :

  1. Firstly, parents may not be on the same page when it comes to parenting (styles). Too big a discrepancy between mother and father and confusing for the young person.
  2. Second, problems can arise because the boundaries between the parental subsystem and the other subsystems are too vague and unclear.
  3. Finally, the parental system cannot function properly due to an inverted hierarchy.

Involvement between family members In addition to hierarchy, emotional involvement is important for the functioning of the family as a system. Distinction between loose sand families (too little) and tangle families (too much).
In families with insufficient adaptability (rigid), existing rules and patterns are adhered to, even if they are no longer adequate. The opposite of this are chaotic families: too much adaptability.

Shared and unshared experiences within the family In addition to innate characteristics, other factors can also cause children to differ from each other. They can be raised differently. A distinction is made between shared and unshared experiences. The unshared experiences ensure that children within a family can still become different.

Research has also shown that parents behave differently towards different children in the family: differential parental treatment.

Family and society

Less income and a lower educational and occupational level of parents is associated with more problem behavior, poorer school performance and the display of less competent behavior by young people. A low social environment influences the parenting behavior of parents and indirectly the behavior of children. They parent less adequately, they control more restrictively, they are less supportive and less focused on the autonomy development of their child.

Single-parent familiesHaving a single-parent family influences the development of the young person. A practical problem is the lack of a second educator . The majority of the research below concerns families who have gone through a divorce. The parental detachment process is disrupted when one parent leaves home. During this period, the adolescent also becomes more interested in a love relationship. If young people are confronted with their parents’ dysfunctional and conflictual relationship during this period, this can be detrimental to their own social development. There is also a reduction in financial resources after a divorce if the father was the breadwinner and the mother has custody of the children.

The death of a parent seems to be easier for young people to process than for younger children because of their better cognitive abilities. Yet it is true that death is especially hard during adolescence. This period is marked by many important changes and with each of these changes the loss of the missing parent is strongly felt.

Families of immigrant origin

There are major differences between different immigrant groups in the extent to which they focus on integration into Dutch society. This depends on the generation to which the family belongs, the country, but also the place of origin and the education level of the parents.

Immigrant young people exhibit more externalizing and internalizing problem behavior than Dutch young people. This also applies to learning and concentration disorders, aggressive or withdrawn behavior, identity problems, physical complaints and sleep disorders. In the eyes of immigrant parents, Dutch parents allow a greater degree of freedom and have little authority over their children. Immigrant families more often come from collective cultures: everyone is involved in the upbringing. These cultures are also group-oriented. A clearer distinction is also made between boys and girls than in Dutch families. Boys get more freedom. Girls are becoming more involved in housework and caring for younger children.

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