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Two Key Factors that Influence Adolescent Girls’ Relationships

by Dr. Gary Lewandowski.

Romantic relationships are important for everyone, and that may especially be the case for adolescent girls. Compared to boys, adolescent girls indicate that their relationships affect them more and they focus more on their relationships.1 Understanding what contributes to healthy relationships for adolescent girls may help lessen potential negative relationship experiences. In this vein, a recent study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers from Stony Brook University explored adolescent girls’ relational security, or how comfortable girls are with being close to others and how much they worry about being left or abandoned.

How They Did it

The researchers studied early adolescent females and their parents at two time points a year apart. Seventy-one girls (average age around 13.5 years old) and their parents (predominantly mothers) answer a series of questions both times. At the beginning of the study, girls provided information regarding their attachment to their parent (higher scores indicate greater security), as well as their own relational security (items assessed comfort with closeness and anxiety about abandonment). Parents indicated the amount of stress in the relationship with their daughter, as well as their satisfaction with the parent-daughter relationship (e.g., “I am delighted with the relationship I have with my child.”). 

A year later, girls again answered questions regarding their own relationship security and any romantic activities (e.g., “Gone on a good date”, “Kissed a date or romantic partner”) they had engaged in during the previous year. Based on responses, the researchers created three relationship event subscales: typical romantic events (e.g., “been romantically attracted to someone”), and actual or feared rejection (e.g., “gone on a bad date”).

What They Found

Early adolescent girls who reported more actual or feared rejection experienced decreases in relational security (less comfort with closeness and greater anxiety about abandonment) across the year-long study.

If at Time 1, parents reported more stress in the parent-daughter relationship, daughters reported decreases in comfort with closeness over the year the study took place. Similarly, comfort with closeness eroded over time when parent-adolescent attachment was less secure at Time 1.  

What These Results Mean

Overall the results suggest that early adolescent girls’ relationships with their parents, as well as their own romantic relationship experiences, influence relationship security over time.

The fact that experiences with rejection were influential for feelings of security is not surprising given the increasing importance of peers’ opinions in adolescence. Girls also tend to place more emphasis on relationships in adolescence, so experiencing more rejection may trigger a sense of self-protection that discourages greater closeness with others.

Given the association between parent-daughter attachment security and comfort with closeness at the end of the study, it is possible that greater security in the parent-child relationship could help counteract the negative influence of real or perceived rejection. As a parent, it also underscores the importance of your relationship with adolescent daughter. Having a strong relationship that creates a sense of security should help foster your daughter’s own relational security.

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