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Adolescents' Maintenance of Family Connectedness in Their Everyday Lives

  • Author(s): Tsai, Kim M
  • Advisor(s): Fuligni, Andrew J
  • et al.

One of the fundamental developmental tasks that adolescents face is how to negotiate their individual autonomy and connectedness to the family. This dissertation includes two studies that employed the daily diary approach to examine how adolescents maintain the important sense of connectedness to their families in their every day lives. The goal of Study 1 was to examine how adolescents (N = 297; Mage = 16.39 years; 43% males) from diverse ethnic backgrounds (44% Latino; 25% Asian; 41% European) balanced their leisure time with family in conjunction with time commitments with friends and schoolwork on the same day. In general, adolescents' time with friends impinged upon their leisure time with family, whereas more time spent on schoolwork went hand in hand with greater family leisure. Whereas females experienced difficulty negotiating time with family and friends on the same day, males and adolescents from Latino families were better able to maintain time with family, friends and schoolwork all on the same day. Spending time with family reinforced adolescents' daily sense of family membership; however, competing demands between family and friends on the same day were linked to feelings of distress especially for females. Overall, Study 1 demonstrates the daily behavioral processes that adolescents undertake to stay connected to their families, yet also meet their needs for autonomy and independence. The goal of Study 2 was to understand how familial conditions at home promote adolescents' family connectedness by way of adolescents' provision of emotional support to their families. In the two-year longitudinal study, participants included 421 Mexican-American parent-adolescent dyads (adolescents: Mage = 15 years, 50% males; parents: Mage = 42 years, 83% mothers). Although adolescents provide emotional support to parents and other family members at similar rates, parents' daily familial stressors encouraged adolescents to provide emotional caregiving to other family members, rather than to their parents. This daily contingency between parental stressors and adolescents' emotional caregiving was especially pronounced among parents with poor physical health. Furthermore, adolescents who endorsed strong family obligation values displayed the greatest inclinations to provide emotional support to their families on days marked by parental need. And on days when adolescents provided support to their family, they experienced elevated feelings of family membership. Provision of emotional support was not concurrently or longitudinally linked to adverse psychological well-being. Overall, Study 2 demonstrates that adolescents' provision of emotional support is a culturally relevant and meaningful activity for Mexican-American youth.

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