Program Outcomes for Youth
Social Competencies

Adolescent Relationships
Roselyn K. Polk


Relationships are an intricate part of our personal and social lives. Relationships fundamentally influence not only how one perceives one's self, but also perceptions of one's value or worthwhileness to society. Adolescent relationships include parents, step-parents, siblings, peers, adult relatives, and other significant adults i.e., teachers, mentors, religious figures. And since no relationship occurs in a vacuum, relationships can become very complex and convoluted. In addition, an adolescent differs somewhat in their needs with respect to relationships compared to adults and younger children (Hauser, S. T. 1991; Jackson & Rodriguez-Tome, 1993).

Perhaps one may best think of the adolescent as anchoring a continuum: one end of this continuum is anchored by the child-adolescent, while the opposite end is anchored by the adolescent-young adult. At different stages along this continuum the still developing adolescent may discover changing and/or differing relationship needs. In other words, the relationships of adolescents, especially with parents and peers, may be reshaped and redefined several times before adolescent maturity is fully completed. For example, the child-adolescent still depends on his or her parents for nutritional and physical sustenance and maintenance, transportation, and physical comfort. The adolescent-young adult will differ in needs; employment may decrease reliance on physical sustenance or maintenance i.e., clothes, personal care items (Mortimer, Shanahan, & Ryu, 1994), a vehicle may enhance autonomy, and a shift in attachment may occur from the parents to dating or peer relationships (Patterson, Pryor, & Field, 1995). Garbo (1986), suggests that as the adolescent matures, parental influence declines and becomes more situationally dependent. While the parental relationship continues to retain influence in some domains i.e., school, other relationships become increasingly important. The gradual evolving of adolescent maturity coupled with the resultant change in physical and emotional needs suggests that corresponding relationships also undergo certain changes in order to meet these new needs (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992; Kirchler, Palmonari, & Pombeni, 1993).

Critical Component Elements of Relationships

Relationships with parents, siblings, peers, and other adults provide:
One's sense of self-esteem and self-concept
A sense of worthwhileness to family and to society in general
A respect for self and others
Positive role models and positive moral character
A sense of social competency and the ability to cope in social situations
The ability to define one's direction and goal orientation


If positive functional relationships are fundamental to an adolescent's perceptions of his or her self-concept and social competency, a central question becomes what is needed to enhance those aspects of the adolescent's self-concept necessary for positive, functional, and healthy relationships. Relationships do not occur in vacuum. Relationships are intertwined with, and dependent on, an adolescent's ability to make decisions confidently and to possess those communication skills necessary for successful social interaction. At the same time, an adolescent's relationships may have a strong component of conflict that may or may not reflect adequate decision making and/or communication skills on the part of the adolescent. By enhancing and strengthening skills like decision making and communication, a stronger sense of self-esteem is developed which in turn enhances the adolescent's ability to interact more positively and confidently within his or her youth-adult and youth-peer relationships.


Furman, W. & Buhrmester, D. (1992). Age and sex differences in perceptions of networks of personal relationships. Child Development, 63, 103-115.

Garbo, J. J. (1986). Adolescents' perceptions of significant adults: Implications for the family, the school and youth serving agencies. Children and Youth Services Review, 8, 37-51.

Hauser, S. T. (1991). Adolescents and Their Families: Paths to Ego Development. New York: The Free Press.

Jackson, S. & Rodriguez-Tome, H. (1993). Adolescence: Expanding social worlds. In S. Jackson and H. Rodriquez-Tome (Eds.), Adolescence and Its Social Worlds. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Kirchler, E., Palmonari, A., & Pombeni, M. L. (1993). Developmental tasks and adolescent's relationships with their peers and their family. In S. Jackson and H. Rodriquez-Tome (Eds.), Adolescence and Its Social Worlds. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Mortimer, J. T., Shanahan, M., & Ryu, S. (1994). The effects of adolescent employment on school-related orientation and behavior. In R. K. Silbereisen & E. Todt (Eds.), Adolescence in Context: The Interplay of Family, School, Peers, and Work in Adjustment. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Paterson, J., Pryor, J., & Field, J. (1995). Adolescent attachment to parents and friends in relation to aspects of self-esteem. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24(3), 365-376.



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