Adolescence is a period of development that involves social transition that helps in shaping a new and more complex social environment. The rise of peer relationship is one of the most important transitions that happen during adolescence. Also, peers begin to be the primary source of adolescents’ social support and they contribute to adolescents’ self-concept and well-being (La Greca & Davila, 2008). It is also that stage of learning and practicing a variety of social skills, including, cooperation, persuasion, compromise, emotional control, and conflict. La Greca and Harrison (2005) stated that peer relationship plays an important role in children’s and adolescent’s personal and social development. Furthermore, peer relationships are important in increasing the adolescents’ independence from family influences and help them in facilitating their personal identity (La Greca & Lopez, 1998).
Peer relationships also face difficulties that contribute to maladaptive emotional functioning and this includes the development of social anxiety in adolescents (De Los Reyes & Prinstein, 2004). Erath, Flanagan, and Bierman (2007) have stated the rates of social anxiety begins to climb significantly during adolescence. Mancini, van Ameringen, Bennett, Patterson, and Wattson, (2005), stated that social anxiety involves an excessive fear of interpersonal scrutiny and the associated potential for embarrassment or humiliation. It is also associated with the perception that an individual can be evaluated negatively by others in a social context. Previous researchers have shown that adolescents who are socially anxious tends to have a low self-esteem and they tends to evaluate their behavior negatively. They also have the tendency to display sign of avoidance in stressful performance situations and to withdraw from peer interactions. According to Blote and Westenberg (2007), adolescents who are socially anxious has a tendency to be least liked by their peers and they have fewer chances to build positive relationships with their peers.
A number of studies have examined the connections between adolescents’ peer relationships and internalizing aspects such as social anxiety. Previous researchers have examined the different dimensions of peer relationships, such as peer victimization, peer rejection, peer acceptance, friendship quality, and peer attachment. In fact, researchers have been established the relationship between peer victimization with negative outcomes such as social anxiety. It was supported by Siegel, La Greca, and Harrison (2009) wherein they found that higher levels of peer victimization resulted into higher levels of social anxiety. Furthermore, peer rejection is also linked to social anxiety. Sentse, Lindenberg, Omulee, Ormel, and Veenstra (2010) stated that when the level of peer rejection is high it promotes insecure attachment towards their peers that contributes to the higher level of social anxiety. Lastly, peer acceptance is also associated with social anxiety. For instance, in a study conducted by Teachman and Allen (2007), the findings showed that lower perceived social acceptance is a predictor of social anxiety and fear of negative evaluation.
On that extent, researchers proved that there is a clear connection between peer victimization, peer rejection and peer acceptance to social anxiety. This study builds on and extends prior research by investigating the role friendship quality and peer attachment, another dimension of peer relationships, to social anxiety among adolescents.
Parker, Rubin, Erath, Wojslawowicz, & Buskirk (2006) emphasized the importance of peer groups and friendships for adolescents. It is the period of development wherein they experience strong desires for personal validation through the help of interpersonal intimacy and thus, researchers gain interest to study the links between peer relationships on adolescents ’socialization and psychological well-being. The primary goal of the current study is to investigate distinct dimensions of peer relationships, friendship quality and peer attachment and their role in social anxiety among adolescents. It is important to distinguish dimensions of peer relationships because they can afford unique contributions to social anxiety and have different implications for interventions (La Greca & Harrison, 2005).
Review of Related Literature
Contemporary Interpersonal Theory (Keisler, 1996), propose that children and adolescents that are having difficulties when it comes to relating with their peer groups would be at risk to social anxiety. In shaping empathy, perspective taking and self-perception, friendship was thought to play a particularly important role. The theory emphasizes the contribution of interpersonal relationship in altering inappropriate patterns of relatedness, patterns shaped by current and past experiences of social anxiety, insecurity, and avoidance. In other words, this theory states that the high or low level of social anxiety will depend on the early environment of an individual.
Furthermore, the theory proposes that every relationship has an impact on communication, motivation, and interaction with every person. Therefore, when an individual is experiencing interpersonal problems, it can lead to disengagement from the social network that could result in anxiety and isolation. This theory states that in every relationship it is possible to transform an immature preadolescent into a psychologically healthy adolescent and it also emphasizes that society is the actual creator of an individuals’ personalities. In addition, an individual does not exist as a simple personality; its personality can only exist in relation to others. Moreover, a person’s formative period of development is important to the personality. The personality of a person will be maladjusted if he or she grow up in an unstable environment.
There are several studies that have used Contemporary Interpersonal Theory as the theoretical foundation. The theory has proved that it is influential in terms of the study about the friendships of children’s (Furman, Simon, Shaffer, & Bouchey, 2002), it is also helpful in understanding loneliness contribution to the motivational force in development and maladjustment (Asher & Paquette, 2003). In the study of Goodearl, Salzinger, and Rosario (2014) have found that influence of peers can be either a positive or negative. They believe that peer itself could have a protective function for at-risk youths.
Furthermore, Anderson and Harvey (1998) stated that the unpleasant experiences with peers during childhood and adolescence plays a special role in the emergent of social anxiety. Vernberg, Abwender, Ewell, and Beery (1992) have agreed with that and they have confirmed that the degree of companionship and intimacy in friendships and the frequency of rejection experience would change over time the level of social anxiety. The results of the findings of Inderbiten, Walters, and Bukowski (1997) and La Greca and Harrison (2005) were also consistent. They have also found that the negative peer experiences such as peer rejection could lead to social withdrawal and social anxiety.
During adolescence, the importance of peer relationship increases resulting in the changes in the individuals, social norms, and context. Also, peers begin to be the primary source of influence on adolescents’ attitudes, activities, and emotional well-being (Brown & Larson, 2009). They also give too much importance to the expectation and opinion of their peers, which to some extent affects their decisions and actions (Berndt & Murphy, 2002). Hall-Lande, Eisenberg, Christenson, and Neumark-Sztainer (2007) stated that when an individual has a good relationship with their peers it can increase their social competence. It can also lead to a higher level of motivation and make their school involvement becomes more active that results into an improved school performance. It also results in a lower level of behavioral problems and it increases the level of self-worth and improved leadership skills.
For such reason, researchers gain interests in examining peer relationships. Several types of research have been conducted about peer relationship and its effect on the different developmental areas. Boiling, Barry, Kotchick, and Lowry (2011) have studied the contribution of peer relationship to the individuals’ social competence. They have found that the relationship with peers enhances social skills and results to social competence. Furthermore, Contreras, Kerns, Weimer, Genztler, and Tomich (2000) added that peer relationship can help to improve the capacity of an individual to regulate his emotion. Goodearll, Salzinger, and Rosario (2014), have also added that the role of peers in the community adaptation is different in predicting aggression and anxiety. This is contrary to the findings of La Greca and Harrison (2005), where they have found that relations with peers have a strong link with social anxiety.
With those findings of the effects of a peer relationship, the researchers didn’t stop with that. They have also explored the different dimensions of peer relationships including peer victimization, peer rejection, peer acceptance, peer attachment, and friendship quality in relation to different developmental areas.
Adolescence is the stage of development where competence with peers influences adolescents attitudes, activities, and emotional well-being (Brown & Larson, 2009). When interpersonal relationships increases, negative peer experiences also increases and become a problem for adolescents (Hawker & Boulton, 2000). An example of negative experience is peer victimization. Hawker and Boulton (2000) define peer victimization as the experience of being the target of the aggressive behavior of others. Seeley, Tombari, Bennett, Dunkle (2009) have proved the peer victimization can lead to negative behavior such as low self-esteem, school avoidance, low school engagement, learned helplessness, lower school achievement, and depression.
Siegel, La Greca, and Harrison (2009) and Erath, Flanagan, and Bierman (2007) examined the connection between peer victimization and social anxiety among older adolescents. Their study reveals that when the level of peer victimization is high, it will also result in a high level of social anxiety. Furthermore, Cole Maxwell, Dukewich, and Yosick (2010) added that those individuals who have experience peer victimization also exhibit depressive symptoms.
In line with those research, Flanagan, Erath, and Bierman (2008) has examined the link between social anxiety and peer victimization and nominations. They have found that when the maladaptive social behavior and negative social appraisal is high, it is associated with a high level of social anxiety. And they have shown that peer victimization and positive peer nominations are connected with social anxiety. Associations among individual vulnerabilities and peer relations are also closely linked.
This dimension of peer relationship has been already examined in relation to social anxiety. Previous researchers have verified that there is a relationship between peer victimization and social anxiety.
Another dimension of peer relationship is peer rejection. Peer rejection is a negative aspect of peer relationship. When an individual is excluded from a social relationship or interaction, peer rejection happens. Being rejected by peers can make an adolescent feel lonely, depress or anxious. Peer relationships can be exploitive and destructive. A person can be rejected by individuals or an entire group of people. Bhambri and Sharma (2015) have stated that peer rejection exists in different forms such as by bullying, teasing, ridiculing, or by ignoring the person or giving the “silent treatment”.
If the incident of rejection is consistent and if the person is sensitive when it comes to rejection, peer rejection can become a problem. Williams, Forgas and von Hippel (2005), stated that rejection have negative effects, and specifically it could lead to social isolation. Experiencing rejection can lead to numerous adverse psychological consequences such as loneliness, low self-esteem, aggression, and depression (McDougall, Hymel, Vaillancourt, & Mercer, 2001).
Johnson, Coie, Gremaud, Lockman and Terry (1999), revealed that rejection and aggression towards peers in childhood is linked to each other. The interpersonal outcomes of an individual are found to be affected by the combination of peer rejection and aggression. They have also found that there’s a difference when it comes to gender. The processing of the feeling that is being rejected varies. When boys experienced rejection by their peers, it results in a serious negative interpersonal outcome. While, peer rejection on girls are not linked with any negative personal outcome, but still it affects their aggression.
Reijntjes, Thomaes, Bushman, Boelen, de Castro and Telch (2010) have examined the link between rejection and aggression and whether alienation can moderate the effect. Their study revealed that when children have experience rejection they become more aggressive, compare to those accepted children. It only means that peer rejection plays an important role in youth aggression.
Sentse, Lindenberg, Omulee, Ormel, and Veenstra (2010) examined if the externalizing and internalizing problems of an individual that is in the stage of the early adolescent can be affected by peer rejection. They have revealed that the high level of externalizing and internalizing behaviors was associated with peer rejection. They have highlighted depression and anxiety as the main effect of peer rejection. Just like peer victimization, peer rejection is also found significantly related to social anxiety.
Another dimension of peer relationship is peer acceptance. La Greca and Harrison (2005) have stated that peer acceptance contributes in adolescents’ self-identity and it greatly influences on psychological adjustment. Peer acceptance plays an important role in the social and emotional development of an individual and it also provides a wide range of learning and development opportunities. Social and emotional development includes companionship, recreation, building social skills, participating in groups, and managing competition and conflicts. Mostow, Izard, Fine and Trentacost (2002) added that it also allow self-exploration, emotional growth, moral and ethical development.
When an individual feel that they are less accepted by their peers, it could result in negative effects. Low levels of peer acceptance can cause psychological consequences, particularly social anxiety. Teachman and Allen (2007) examined if the implicit fear of negative evaluation and social anxiety is linked with the psychological factors that are related to the interaction with peers. They have found that adolescents peer interaction have several qualities that would predict social anxiety symptoms and fear of negative evaluation. Their finding supports the claims of social information processing theory of developmental psychopathology. That psychosocial factors are connected to the development of social anxiety.
Specifically, they suggested that lack of perceived social acceptance predicts subsequent implicit fear of negative evaluation. The results of the study shed light on the psychosocial factors that are linked to the development of social anxiety problems and provide support to social information processing theories of developmental psychopathology. The findings showed that lower perceived social acceptance predicts social anxiety and fear of negative evaluation. Similarly to that Greco and Morris (2005) examined the mechanisms that are influencing the connection between social anxiety and low peer acceptance. They have focused on identifying the factors that will explain the link between social anxiety and peer acceptance. They have found that social anxiety was clearly linked to social preference and skills, but not to social impact and friendship quality.
Social anxiety can be both influenced and can influence social skills. Social skills and friendship variables are clearly connected with social anxiety and peer acceptance. Erath, Flanagan, and Bierman (2007) focused on the factors that are related to social anxiety. Their findings revealed that being socially anxious during adolescent were connected with fewer acceptances of peers. Withdrawn children have a higher tendency to experience social difficulties and fuels the increased of social anxiety. In short, those early adolescents with elevated social anxiety may result into the decreased of peer acceptance due to the reduced rates of positive social engagement. Lower peer acceptance that is associated with lower positive peer response also increase the feeling of being socially anxious, that is ineffective during social interaction.
Sentse, Lindenberg, and Veenstra (2010) have proved the link between peer acceptance and social anxiety. They have found that peer acceptance is significantly connected to the externalizing and internalizing problems, specifically in depression and anxiety. Sentse, Lindenberg, Omulee, Ormel, and Veenstra (2010) added that peer acceptance is also related to the internalizing and internalizing problems.
With respect to peer victimization, peer rejection and peer acceptance, these dimensions of peer relationships have established the linked with social anxiety among adolescents. Another dimension that researchers explored in peer relationships is peer attachment and friendship quality.
According to Gorrese and Ruggieri (2012), peer attachment represents a special type of social relationship. It is characterized by repeated contact in a critical context within which the individual organizes emotional experiences and regulates felt security. Individuals must see their attachment figures to be available if needed, regardless of changes in time or context (Kobak, Rosenthal & Serwik, 2005). The first attachment relationship is established with parents, but during the transition from childhood to adolescence, an individual can form attachment bonds with people aside from their family, for instance with their peers. Adolescence is a period of development in which the relationship within peers gradually takes on more and more adult attachment relationships. During this stage of development, peers begin to be the primary source of intimacy and disclosure for adolescents. In addition, peers provide emotional and social support for adolescents. And sometimes, they see them as their primary attachment figure (Wilkinson, 2004).
Several studies examined peer attachment in different developmental areas. Laghi, Pallini, Baumgartner, and Baiocco (2015) examined the relationship between parent and peer attachment, time perspective, and satisfaction with life. The results show that there is a relationship between parent and peer attachment, time perspective, and life satisfaction.
Wilkinson (2004) conducted a study to examine the relationships of parental attachment, peer attachment, and self-esteem to adolescent psychological health. The results showed that in peer attachment, it clearly contributed to the psychological adjustment of the adolescent. The results indicated that attachment relationships greatly influence the self-worth of an individual rather than directly influencing psychological symptoms. Adolescents having a close and secure relationship with peers tend to evaluate their own attributes and worth more highly.
Noom, Dekovic, and Meeus (1999) investigated the relationships between maternal attachment, paternal attachment, peer attachment, self-esteem, and depression. Their findings show that peer attachment is not connected to self-esteem but a predictor of depression.
In a study conducted by Carlo, McGinley, Hayes, and Martinez (2010) they examined the relationship of peer attachment with pro-social and physically aggressive behaviors of college students. They found that strong attachment relationship to peers results into a strong effect on the psychological and behavioral adjustment. Furthermore, Burack, D’Arrisso, Ponizovsky, Troop-Gordon, Mandour, Tootoosis, et al., (2013) added that a high level of peer attachment can contribute to the academic success of an individual. Laible, Carlo, and Raffaelli (2000) added that a secured relationship with peers reported a better adjustment, in terms of depression and aggression.
It is important to understand individual predispositions, abilities, and attitudes that allow adolescents to connect to peers. In fact, researchers consider the characteristics of peer relationships in understanding the peer related characteristics of an individual. Researchers’ main concern is the similarity in friendship, it is the level to which friends are more similar to each other rather than random pairings. Most researchers have focused on quality of friendship.
Friendship quality consists of positive and negative dimensions. According to Hawley, Little and Card (2007), the positive dimensions of friendship comprises of intimacy, companionship, and equality. While the negative dimensions of friendship quality comprise of conflict, competition, and aggression. Friendship quality consists of positive and negative relationship features because even in good friendships, conflict still happens.
A number of studies have examined the friendship quality of an individual with their peers. They examined the relationship between friendship quality in different developmental and psychological areas. In a study conducted by Ashwin (2003), he found that there is a relationship between peer support and the academic performance of students. The results indicated that support coming from their peers will result in the improvement in their academic performance. Similarly, Phinney, Dennis, and Chuateco (2005) added that the lack of support coming from peers was a negative predictor of adjustment and lower academic achievement. Furthermore, Pittman and Richmond (2008) added that having a close friend can enhance the social skills of an adolescent, perceived social competence and self-worth. Bagwell (2005) added that a positive friendship quality can predict a higher level of self-esteem in early adulthood.
Overall, higher levels of friendship quality have been linked with psychological well-being. However, research has also shown that friendship quality predicts maladjustment. Studies have examined the direct link between quality of social networks and social support, with maladjustment.
Friendship quality is also an important factor on psychological outcomes. It was supported by the study of Rodriguez, Mira, Myers, Morris, & Cardoza (2003) wherein they have found that higher levels of friendship quality results into a lower level of perceived stress.The results of the study highlight the impact of high-quality friendships on well-being and psychological adjustment.
Thus far, researchers proved that there is a relationship between peer victimization, peer rejection, peer acceptance and social anxiety. Also, research has examined the relationship of peer attachment with psychological adjustment, depression, and aggression. While in friendship quality research has examined the links between friendship quality and subjective well-being and maladjustment.
The Contemporary Interpersonal Theory of Keisler (1996) stated that those children and adolescents, who have difficulties relating to their peer groups, may be particularly vulnerable to social anxiety. Our study is anchored by the theory and the study is interested in the possibility that non-stable traits, specifically aspects of interpersonal relationships, affect social anxiety among adolescents. According to Demir and Weitekamp, (2007), it is important to examine aspects of peer relationships, such as friendship quality. This aspect of peer relationships is beneficial because these are factors over which people have more choice and control and it may predict social anxiety. Also, friendship quality will be examined with positive and negative aspects of friendship. According to Bagwell, Bender, Andreassi, Kinoshita, Montarello, and Muller (2005), it is important to consider both positive and negative aspects of friendships, because both features are associated with different aspects of adjustment. Previous studies only focus on positive friendship features when assessing overall friendship quality. This study will also examine another dimension of peer relationships which is peer attachment in relation to social anxiety. According to Nielsen & Cairns (2009), more studies are needed on interpersonal factors such as peer attachment in relation to social anxiety.
The main purpose of the research is to investigate the role of friendship quality dimensions (closeness and discord) and peer attachment to social anxiety among adolescents. Based on the review of existing research on peer relationships, the current study will address the following research questions and hypotheses:
1. Do friendship quality dimensions (closeness and discord) predict social anxiety among adolescents?
Closeness is a negative predictor of social anxiety and discord is a positive predictor of social anxiety.
2. Does peer attachment affect social anxiety among adolescents?
Peer attachment is a positive predictor of social anxiety.
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