table of contents | abstracts


Adolescense Happens to the Whole Family

Kristina Urbanc




A child, as a part of a family, collects feedback about his image and personality through "family mirror" that provides information about his personal status and value inside the family circle. Family members become role models for him.

What feeling dominates the child-adult relationship is more important for the identification process than positive/negative characteristic of role model person (Bajer and Kljajic, 1970; Hirsch and Gottfredson, 1988; Lackovic-Grgin, 1994). The closer relationship, the more intensive and positive is the identification.

The child develops positive attitude to himself, as well as to the others if the relations with the role model is mostly supportive confidentiality and close. If anxiety, lack of confidence, and competence dominate the relationship, the child is often in opposition with his environment. The identification process then goes in a negative direction and it is very likely the child will build up a positive self-image of himself.

Lack of a positive self-image is manifest as a lack of discipline in postponing realization of wishes, lack of responsibility in meeting needs, inability to integrate past experiences and take advantage of them for a future benefits.

A very painful point (for the adolescent and for the parent) is when a young person begins to act, think and feel in a "critical way" about the adults from his/her social environment. For an adolescent, it is painful to find out that his/her parent are not perfect, that they have their own fears, doubts and problems. That pain is usually followed by a fear of loosing "his own personality" (Tadic, 1992).

This is also a painful period for a parent followed by a fear of losing contact with a child ("Where did we make a mistake?") and fear of letting the child make hi/her own decisions.

But, no matter how strong and stressed the adolescent's need to criticize parents (Burgess 1935, Hurlock 1949) the family stays in focus and is still very important in meeting needs. A young person needs family support, help, protections, even more, because in this period of growing up he/she often feels the lack of security, competence and confidence (he/she would still like to think about his/her family as a perfect and strong community where he/she feels perfectly safe).

If a family relationship and atmosphere is flexible so that they can adjust to an adolescent's temporary need to criticize and not return criticism, anger, punishment and fight for power, it is very likely that the adolescent's criticism period will be short and unwanted incidents (such as running away from home, interrupting the education process, "jumping to an adolescent's marriage" etc.) will be prevented.


Hurlock (1949) found that the level of adolescent's criticism is lower where family relationships are satisfying, and where the family's ability to adapt to the numerous changes at early adolescence is large. It is important that the young person get sincere message from his/her family (no matter of his/her criticism): "It is true we are not perfect, and our relations may be far from perfect. We do make mistakes, but we love you, and we are going to be here for you, whenever you need us, to give you love, protection and support." Through the message the adolescent learns that the picture of his/her family has changed with years (as well as the picture of himself), but it is still a place where he belongs and it does not have to influence the quality of the communication and relationship (Cicek, 1995).

That family message lets him know that even an unperfected family like his/hers, is able to love him, to like him and to support him/her. In that case adolescent's feeling of security and self concept will not be damaged permanently and significantly, and he/she will be able to consider himself/herself as a lovable and likable person, worthy enough to start creating a vision of future.



Cohn, Cowan, and Cowan, (1992), confirmed the significance of social support of a child's significant others for the self-concept developing, as well as the intimacy and the quality of relationship between child and significant parent. The quality of parent-child relations can be used as a predictor of eventual behavioural disorders in adolescence (Le Croy, 1988). According o Erikson (Fulgosi, 1987) two major influences in self-concept are the child's significant others (parents, teachers, relatives) and feed-back from child's social environment.

The Adolescent creates his self-concept by inputting his opinion about himself and what he thinks the others thinks of him. The Adolescent's reflection in his social mirror will depend (Mandic, 1984) on physical appearance, intellectual qualities, special gifts, interests, abilities to be a good athlete, school success, socially wanted or unwanted personal characteristics, communication skills, expressed or not expressed attitudes, behaviour at school and behaviour at home.

According to Hurlock (1949) failures (as well as permanent being success) support developing unrealistic self-concepts. Adult's trust in child's potentials, acceptable status in the family, adequate support and help in the periods of crises, are social and economical status of the family creating realistic and positive oriented self-concept.

A poor self-concept is influenced by lack of love and security. This is manifested as being unhappy and miserable, having poor self-esteem, communication problems, and not being able to adjust to a new social situations.



In the world literature the beginning and ending of the adolescence is defined in different ways. Also, the expectations of the adolescent are different and depend on cultural, social, and biological, and individual backgrounds (Vincent, 1988; Nikolic, 1988). What is common is the order of the phenomena's (physiological and psycho-social) and tasks that must be done within that period of adolescence. These tasks (and roles) are (Kapor-Stanulovic, 1988):

  • the role of male and female sex in the society
  • emotional separation from the parents
  • financial independence
  • professional orientation
  • intellectual development
  • developing social responsibility
  • preparation for marriage and parenting
  • accepting the values according to the real and scientific world

According to the psychodynamic approach (Tadic, 1992) the main tasks of adolescence are separation and individuation. Successfully ended separation is basic condition for successfully ended individuation. If these tasks are not accomplished any other attempt to build a new relationship will be


troubled, and will be a potential obstacle for self concept development.

The experience of family environment is the longest and the most intensive experience in a young person's life. The experience either stimulating or delaying in creating self concept and learning the content of social roles.



The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between an adolescent's self-concept and his social environment and family influence.

The quality of family relationship is a very complicated dimension, if we consider ambivalent feelings of the adolescent. Often he/she is fighting against parents' social control, but at the same time is longing for protection and security that the family is able to provide. Parents usually don no know how to respond to the ambivalent message and feel confused. Confusion, followed by aggression and lack of communication, will bring a new quality to family relations (even to those that we would consider caring and understanding). At this point adolescence becomes a family problem rather than an individual problem-it changes the family atmosphere and happens to the whole family, not only to a young person.

This study tested two hypotheses:

  1. There is statistically significant correlation between a child's self-esteem and the quality of family relations (the higher the self-esteem is correlated to a better quality of family relations).
  2. There is statistically significant correlation between child's self-esteem ant the quality of parent's attitude toward a child (the higher self-esteem is correlated to a better quality of parent's attitude).

Participants for the study were sixth grade primary school students (ages 12-13) who are at the beginning of adolescence and their parents (one of them). The research was carried out in 1995, in 6 primary schools of Zagreb (2 downtown area schools, 2 broad city area schools, and 2 suburb schools). The grades were selected randomly and included 120 youth plus one parent for each.

Three measuring instruments (W. Hudson, 1977; Bloom and Fisher; 1982) were used:

  • Index of self esteem, consisting of 25 variables in domain of child's self-concept
  • Index of family relations, consisting of 25 variables in domain of family atmosphere, communication and relations
  • Index of parent's attitude toward child, containing 25 variables in domain of parent's perception of a child.

The advantages of using these measuring instruments are their reliability (which is 0.90). They can easily be used and understood by children in primary school, and they can be simply interpreted.

The subjects were told to asses themselves: pupils were using "Index of family relations" and "Index of self-esteem" during the school lesson, while parents were using "Index of parent's attitude toward child" during parent's meeting. The research was done anonymously.

All scales were submitted to factorial analysis and canonical correlation analysis in order to examine the relationship of family relations quality and parental attitudes to child's self-esteem.



The factor analysis identified two factors in the space of child's assessment of his own self-esteem and family relations, and one factor was extracted in the space of child's assessment of his own self-esteem and parent's assessment of their attitude toward a child.




There are two pairs of canonical factors extracted in this space (their structure is disclosed in table 1a).

According to high coefficient of correlation of the first extracted pair of factors (0.79), there is statistically significant correlation between quality of family relationship and quality of adolescent's self-esteem. It deals with "type" of family relationship, according to the adolescents assessment, where mutual feelings of being content within own family are dominant. Family was percepted as a source of comfort ability, pleasure, acceptance and help. The family atmosphere was described as supportive, stimulating and caring. Adolescent is proud on his family and protection they provides him. he experiences that his needs are met adequately in his family.

This description of family relationship is correlated to a quality of self-esteem which includes following characteristics: ability for asking and receiving other people's help without feeling incompetent, ability to relax, to feel taken care of, to feel pleasure and to have general vision of "nice future". In general, feelings of being tent, hopeless and depressed are not dominant, and self-esteem is based on adolescent's seeing himself as a loveable and respectful person with bright future.

Second extracted pair of factors has also rather high coefficient of correlation (0.75) and describes space of family relations where there are not much disagreements, dislikes, isolation or alienation, but also not much mutuals care confidence and respect. In general, there are no intensive emotions (positive or negative) or conflicts, but neither mutuals support. We can presume that it deals with kind of "surface" communication, where family members communicate occasionally (weekends or evenings) with no intention to meet their needs or to solve their problems within the family (so there is no chance to be seriously emotionally involved).

There is statistically significant correlation between given description of family relations and assessment of self-esteem where adolescent does not precept himself as accepted person, significant for his family, and he does not experience pleasure and joy in his family. Important characteristic is "enjoying in being active and busy" (probably at school and in the peer group). Adolescent does not see himself as an important part of the family, and he probably compensates that lack of "belonging" at school or elsewhere, being "active and busy".

This "occasional" communication (or, it is better to say lack of communication where child does not experience belonging and support, and is most of a time on his own), according to the other studies (Lackovic-Grgin, 1994) is simply not sufficient to provide "basic potentials" relevant for positive oriented self-concept. From the aspects of prevention, this would mean a "signal for intervention" (raising the quality of family relations and child's self-esteem by getting better insight to mutual significance and developing communication skills).



There is one pair of canonical factors extracted by canonical correlation analysis, with coefficient of correlation 0.79 (see table 1b).

A space of parent's attitude is defined by one parent's assessment of a child as an "uneasy", over demanding, and difficult to control. Basic feelings in this relation are anger, impatience, being nervous, lack of love, mutual pleasure understanding and confidence, but also, no violence.

A child is percepted as unwanted, or at least, he does not meet parent's expectations with his behaviour, and parent does not spend much time with his child. As there is no violence in the relation, we can assume that "lack of love" actually mean "dislike" child's appearance and behaviour, rather than "not loving him" (what is not so surprising if we consider numerous psychosomatic changes in the adolescents period: on the emotional level - often and sudden mood changes and emotional "eruptions"; on the level of physical appearance - clothes, hair style; on the level of behavior - going out in the evening, sudden school failure).

A quality of adolescent's self-esteem correlated with given parent's attitude includes basic feelings of helplessness and lack of self-confidence. Still, there is ability to make decisions to "be important", to have a good fun and, if needed to ask for a help. however, dominant feeling is "being looser", self-accusing, defeated, helpless and "not deserving anything better".


According to some authors (Bigras, 1968, to Nikolic 1988) here deals with period of "mourning:. Adolescent, being disappointed by his parents who are "not being perfect" is acting violently, trying to find a solution by expressing quite the opposite feelings (for instance: his love for parents he turns to hate and respect to despise, what is actually addressed to himself). In order to finish successfully period of forming the identity it is essential to came over this phase and its different manifestation of grief (in this case it is being defeated, self criticism, sadness).

Ambivalent feelings are also part of the whole story: adolescent does not feel accepted by the environment, but he would accept help, or he feels "there is always somebody to rely on".

Assessing a child as unsuccessful, unpleased and incompetent, parent actually expresses own feelings of incompetence in the role of parent (specially parent of an adolescent, what he does not feel ready for). This could be a result of temporarily confusion in the period of numerous changes that brings adolescence. If parent-child relations in preadolescent period provided mutual satisfaction and intimacy, these "confused relationship and disliking" in the period of adolescence will be only temporarily, and formal intimacy experience would be of a great help to both, parent and adolescent, to overcome the crises.



The results have supported the hypotheses and according to the extracted factors the following conclusions were made:

1) In the family where general atmosphere provides possibilities for basic psychological needs to be met and mutually taken care of, and where child has experienced security, joy, being important to his family, he will develop a self-esteem of a person who is content with himself and with his significant others.

2) In the family where interpersonal communication is deficient, with lack of contacts and no intensive emotions (so to say an "bedroom family", with "instant" weekend or evening contacts), child develops poor self-concept and lower self-esteem, tending to compensate needs of "being important" and "being accepted" elsewhere (school, peer group).

3) There is also statistically significant correlation between parent's attitude and child's self-esteem: where parents perceive their child as a source of frustration, irritation and are generally discontent with him, child develops "loser's" self-concept and very poor self-esteem (feels defeated, hopeless and not worthy for anything better).


Table 1a: Significance of canonical correlation in the space of self-esteem and family relations

*no table function


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