Saturday, June 23, 2007

Adjustment: Coping, Reconstruction of Goals, and Causal Attributions

In the course of the selection process, adolescents may attain the goals to which they
were aiming. However, this is not always the case. In many situations, adolescents fail
to reach their goals or do not succeed to the extent they expected. Young people may
also face unexpected events that endanger some important aspects of their future lives.
When adolescents face problems in goal attainment, they need to adjust some of their
previous goals, cognitions, or behaviors (Figure 4.1). This adjustment process has been
described in terms of many psychological mechanisms (Table 4.1).
When adolescents face problems in goal attainment, they try to find new ways of dealing
with them, to avoid the difficult situation, or to avoid related information. These
kinds of efforts have been described previously in terms of coping strategies (Folkman,
Lazarus, Pimley, & Novacek, 1987). There are several ways to conceptualize coping.
According to Seiffge-Krenke (1993), for example, functional coping refers to efforts to
manage a problem by actively seeking support, undertaking concrete actions to solve a
problem, or reflecting on possible solutions. A dysfunctional coping includes withdrawing
from or denying the existence of the problem, avoiding active seeking of solutions,
and attempting to regulate the emotions (Seiffge-Krenke, 1993). Understandably, the
characteristics of the situation are important in the kind of coping an individual chooses
to use. For example, effective coping in changeable situations consists of a greater use
of problem-focused coping, whereas in an unchangeable situation effective coping involves
a greater use of emotion-focused coping (Compas, Banez, Malcarne, & Worsham,
1991; Folkman et al., 1987). Consistent with this proposition, Blanchard-Fields,
Jahnke, and Camp (1995) found that the use of problem-focused coping decreased,
whereas passive-dependent coping increased, in use with greater emotional salience.
92 Socialization and Self-Development
Research on coping shares similarities with research on strategy construction. Because
strategies are typically described as a way to attain a goal, they are here summarized
under the selection process. In turn, coping is often described as a way to deal
with goal nonattainment or with an unexpected event, and therefore it is discussed under
Goal Reconstruction
One further way for an adolescent to adjust to the negative outcomes he or she is facing
is to reconstruct personal goals. When people fail to actualize their goals for a specific
developmental trajectory, they are likely to modify their previous goals or to disengage
from them and engage in new kinds of goals as a part of accommodative strategies
(Brandtstädter & Renner, 1990). Doing this reconstruction helps the adolescent, after
a failure, to keep motivated, stay on a realistic level of functioning, and maintain positive
developmental perspectives when facing the next challenging life situation.
Goal reconstruction may lead to either positive or negative developmental changes.
For example, not succeeding in a particular sport may lead to a decision of trying another
kind of sport, which, in the long run, may result in a person’s finding a lifelong
hobby. In turn, having problems at school may lead to increasing interest in social activities
with peers, which may further increase low achievement. Goal reconstruction
on the basis of feedback from goal attainment is one key mechanism of motivational
development (Nurmi, Salmela-Aro, & Koivisto, 2002).
Causal Attributions
One mechanism that plays an important role in the adjustment to a failure in goal attainment
is an adolescent’s interpretation of events afterward. According to Weiner
(1986), after the event is interpreted as success or failure, an individual begins to
search for the possible reasons for this event. Such causal attributions typically refer to
one’s own effort, abilities, or skills; alternatively, they refer to the situation, other people,
or luck.
Most people apply self-protecting causal attributions in their efforts to deal with
negative outcomes in particular (Taylor & Brown, 1988; Zuckerman, 1979); that is, they
take credit for success but blame other people and situational factors for failure. The
function of this defensive thinking is to cope with negative feedback concerning their
self. Lack of such self-protective attributional bias has been shown to increase the likelihood
of depressive symptoms. The problem with the use of attributional bias is that it
leads to behavioral patterns that do not promote high effort in challenging situations
(Berglas & Jones, 1978).
An alternative approach to causal attributions is to conceptualize them from the
point of how functional they are for individual behavior. For example, Glaskow, Dornbusch,
Troyer, Steinberg, and Ritter (1997) suggested that dysfunctional attributional
style implies lack of faith in one’s performance capacities and a reluctance to assume
responsibility for one’s behavior and the outcomes it may generate. Their definition of
dysfunctional causal attribution included references to luck, teacher bias, task difficulty
for either success and failure, and lack of ability in response to failure. Functional
causal attributions refer to ability and effort after success, and effort attribution for a
Channeling, Selection, Adjustment, and Reflection 93
Reflection: Identity, Narratives, and Self-Concept
One psychological mechanism that plays a particularly important role during adolescence
is the way in which individuals perceive and reflect their individual characteristics,
behavioral outcomes, and social positions as a way to construct self-concept and
identity (Figure 4.1; Erikson, 1959; Harter, 1990). Three different conceptualizations
that have been used to describe this self-reflection process (Table 4.1) are discussed in
the next sections.
The ways in which an adolescent perceives him- or herself across time and space have
been described as identity (Baumeister & Muraven, 1996; van Hoof, 1999). One major
assumption of the original identity theory was that the particular social position or the
role the adolescent has adopted has consequences for his or her identity (Erikson,
1959). During adolescence, individuals explore different alternatives and end up in specific
adult roles. Perceiving oneself then in a particular role helps an individual to construct
an identity of who he or she is (Baumeister & Muraven, 1996; van Hoof, 1999).
Although identity, by definition, refers to the self-structures of an individual, the
vast majority of research in the field has relied on Marcia’s (1980) identity status paradigm,
which focuses on the processes that are assumed to lead to identity formation
rather than identity contents per se. Marcia originally operationalized Erikson’s (1959)
theory of identity formation in terms of four identity statuses. These were defined in
terms of the presence and absence of crises and commitment related to important life
decisions: identity diffusion (no current crisis or commitment); moratorium (current
crisis, no commitment); foreclosure (commitment, no apparent former crisis); and identity
achievement (commitment, previous crisis resolved).
Individuals also construct narratives and tell stories about themselves as a way to create
an identity (McAdams, 1999). Because one main feature of human cognition is that
its contents can be shared by language, telling stories is an important means to increase
self-coherence, to support positive self-concept and high self-esteem, to relate one’s
identity to those of significant others, and to create prototypic identity narratives as a
member of a particular culture.
According to McAdams (1999), it is on the brink of adulthood that a person begins
to construe his or her life in narrative terms. The implicit goal of this is to create an internalized
story of the self that binds together the reconstructed past, perceived present,
and anticipated future in a way that confers upon life a sense of unity and purpose.
Although identity narratives vary in regard to content and structural features, agency
and communion are their typical themes, and they are often situated to a specific moral
or ideological setting (McAdams, 1999).
Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
Adolescents receive a substantial amount of feedback concerning their skills and competencies
during selection and adjustment processes. For example, how well an adolescent
is doing at school and the kinds of feedback he or she receives from peers and
94 Socialization and Self-Development
parents have consequences for what a person thinks about him- or herself (Harter,
1990). This self-concept has been among the most popular research fields in adolescent
Although the concept of self has been expanded to refer to a wide variety of mechanisms,
the definition of self-concept is straightforward: It refers to relatively stable
schemata of oneself that are generalized to the extent that they refer to an individual’s
view of him- or herself across different situations. A person has a self-concept to the extent
that he or she has a coherent structure within which the multitude of self-relevant
thoughts and feelings achieve organization (Nowalk, Tesser, Vallacher, & Borkowski,
2000). By contrast, self-esteem is typically defined as the ways in which individuals evaluate
themselves according to normative or self-related standards. For example, positive
self-esteem might be assumed, by definition, to be caused by having more success than
expected, and negative self-esteem stems from having less success than expected.
Although socialization and self-development, as evidenced in channeling, selection,
adjustment, and self-reflection processes, are often described as an individual development,
they are closely embedded in the adolescent’s interpersonal relationships (Nurmi,
2001). When thinking about their future life and related decisions, young people often
negotiate with, ask advice from, or reject information given by their parents and teachers.
Similarly, they model their peers and discuss their future lives with their friends
(Figure 4.2).
Three topics are particularly interesting in this context. First, to what extent is adolescent
socialization directed by parents, or do the outcomes of the adolescent socialization
activate certain kinds of parenting? Second, to what extent are adolescents influenced
by their peers, or do they rather select a peer group according to their own
interests and characteristics? Third, how are adolescents’ relationships to their parents
and peers related in the process of socialization into adulthood?
Adolescents and Parents: Cause or Effect?
Parent-adolescent relationships have been among the most examined topics in adolescent
development (Steinberg, 2001). Although family relationships have been theoretically
conceptualized as bidirectional interaction between the adolescent and his or her
parent (Bell, 1979; Lerner, 1982), empirical researchers seem to make a strong presumption
that it is parenting that influences adolescent development (Crouter, Mac-
Dermid, McHale, & Perry-Jenkins, 1990; Jacobson & Crockett, 2000). This seems to be
the case even for most recent research even though many researchers have challenged
this view and suggested that children also impact their parents’ child-rearing patterns
(Harris, 1995; Kerr, Stattin, Biesecker, & Fedder-Wreder, in press; Lerner, 1982; Lerner
& Spanier, 1978).
This issue of the extent to which parents’ attitudes, behaviors, and child-rearing patterns
influence their adolescents’ development, or whether it is children’s thinking and
behaviors that have an impact on their mothers’ and fathers’ parenting, is of key im-
Codevelopment: Parents and Peers 95
portance for this chapter. On the one hand, there are good reasons to assume that parents
influence the ways in which their adolescent children deal with the transition into
adulthood. There are at least three possible ways: First, parents may direct the development
of their children’s interests, goals, and values by communicating expectations
and setting normative standards; second, they may influence the ways in which their
adolescent child deals with various developmental demands by acting as role models
and providing tutoring; and finally, they may contribute to the ways in which adolescents
evaluate their success in dealing with these demands by providing support and
feedback (Nurmi, 1991). On the other hand, the adolescent’s success in dealing with the
key demands of his or her age-graded environments may well influence his or her parents’
expectations concerning their child’s future; adolescents’ competencies and coping
skills may evoke the use of certain parenting styles among the parents; and adolescents’
behavior may cause extra stress for parents, which then influence their thinking,
behavior, and even well-being (Figure 4.2).
Adolescents and Peers: Selection or Causation?
Aside from parents, peers and friends are involved in the ways in which adolescents deal
with the transition into adulthood (McGuire et al., 1999). Adolescents in a particular
peer group exhibit many similarities compared with adolescents in other groups. Such
homophily of the peer groups has been reported in many characteristics, such as aspirations
(Kandel, 1978), school work (Cohen, 1977), and problem behavior (Urberg,
Degirmenciogly, & Pilgrim, 1997). Two major mechanisms have been suggested to be
responsible for this homophily. First, peer groups may be important socialization
agents in adolescents’ development. In this case, adolescents become similar to their
peers because peers provide role models, feedback, and a platform for social comparisons
(Ryan, 2001). Second, adolescents may select peer groups having members who
share similar characteristics and interests with those they have themselves, or they may
leave groups that do not fit with their characteristics or motivation (Cohen, 1977).
Overall, selection and socialization into peer groups might be assumed to play an important
role in the ways in which adolescents deal with the transition into adulthood
(Figure 4.2).
Parents or Peers
Starting from early adolescence, children spend increasing amounts of time with their
peers both at school and after school (Larson & Richards, 1991), whereas they spend
less time with their parents (Collins & Russell, 1991). Some researchers have suggested
that children’s decreasing closeness to their parents is associated with their increased
orientation toward the peers. For example, Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) suggested
that the transition from childhood to adolescence is marked more by a trading of dependency
on parents for dependency on peers rather than a straightforward growth in
Parents and peers play different roles in individuals’ attempts to negotiate their ways
through adolescence. For example, Tao Hunter (1985) found that adolescents discussed
96 Socialization and Self-Development
with their parents particularly topics that related to adolescents’ social and economic
functioning in adulthood (i.e., academic, vocational, and social-ethical issues). By contrast,
they discussed with their friends particularly issues concerning interpersonal relations.
Another important issue is the extent to which adolescents’ relationships with
their parents and peers are associated. Fuligni and Eccles (1993) found that adolescents
who perceived high parental strictness and little opportunity for decision making were
higher in extreme peer orientation. In the following literature review I also examine what
is known about the role of parents and peers in adolescents’ socialization to adulthood.
Earlier in this chapter, adolescent development into adulthood was described in terms
of four processes (Table 4.1). In the following sections I review the research on what we
know about the channeling, selection, adjustment, and reflection processes among
adolescents. For each process, the research on the nature of the processes, the developmental
changes, major antecedents and consequences, and the role of family and peers
are reviewed.
Channeling: Anticipations of Developmental Tasks and Transitions
Age-graded developmental tasks, role transitions, and institutional tracks were expected
to channel the ways in which adolescents direct their future development and select
their environments. Previous research supports this by showing that adolescents
have relatively detailed conceptions of their age-related developmental environments
(i.e., the timing of a variety of developmental tasks, role transitions, turning points, and
institutional tracks; Crockett & Bingham, 2000; Nurmi, 1989b). They also anticipate
their future lives as a sequence of transitions in which school completion is followed by
job entry, and then by marriage and parenthood. Moreover, their anticipations of the
major turning points is in accordance with the statistics of the median age at which individuals
go through these transitions in a particular society (Crockett & Bingham,
2000; Nurmi, Poole, & Kalakoski, 1996). This is not surprising because the cognitive
ability to make such estimations has been shown to develop well before the adolescent
years, by the age of 8 to 9 years (Friedman, 2000).
Research on how far into the future adolescents’ thinking and personal goals extend
gives a similar view. Nurmi (1989b, 1991), for example, showed that young people’s
thinking about the future extends to the end of the second and to the beginning of the
third decade of life: Adolescents expected their education-related goals to be actualized,
on average, at about the age of 18 to 19, occupation-related goals to be actualized
at the age of 22 to 23, and goals related to family at the age of 25 to 26. Adolescents’ life
course anticipations are also predictive of their subsequent life course events, particularly
in the family domain (Hogan, 1985).
Research has also shown gender differences in the life span anticipations. Girls tend
to anticipate forming a partnership, establishing a family, and having children earlier
than do boys (Malmberg, 1996), which again is in accordance with the statistics.
Research On Socialization into Adulthood 97
Among girls, the anticipations of the timing of educational and occupational transition
are closely connected to the anticipations of family formation (Crockett & Bingham,
2000). This finding is thought to reflect the fact that girls take into account the role conflicts
of these two domains more than boys do (Hogan, 1985).
The Role of Family
Family characteristics are associated with adolescents’ anticipations of their life span
transitions. For example, high parental education contributes to a later expected age
for all major transitions (Crockett & Bingham, 2000; Hogan, 1985). Similarly, adolescents
who have grown up in homes of lower socioeconomic standing expect earlier
youth-to-adult transitions. In addition, parents’ values are associated with their children’s
expectations: parents who have liberated sex-role attitudes have daughters who
expect to leave the parental household earlier than do the daughters of parents with
more conservative attitudes (Hogan, 1985).
Moreover, parents’ views of their adolescent child’s future transitions contribute to
the child’s future life. Hogan (1985) found in a longitudinal study that mothers’ educational
aspirations for their daughters predicted the timing of the daughters’ marital
transitions. Moreover, daughters of mothers who emphasized traditional sex roles were
more likely to marry as adolescents compared with other young women. By contrast,
daughters of mothers who emphasized the importance of career-preparatory education
tend to delay marriage and family.
Goal Construction
One mechanism that plays an important role in how an adolescent directs his or her development
and selects from a variety of environments is the kind of personal goals he
or she constructs. Such goals are important, because they help the young person to
move to a direction that would satisfy his or her personal motivation.
Transitions and Institutional Tracks One of the key assumptions of this chapter is that
adolescents construct their goals by comparing their individual motives to the opportunity
space created by their age-graded sociocultural environments. When adolescents
are asked about their future hopes and interests, they typically report topics that focus
on their personal future lives, such as education, occupation, family, leisure activities,
travel, and self-related issues (Nurmi, 1991; Salmela-Aro, 2001). It is interesting to note
that there is little variation across societies and cultures in such hopes and interests (for
a review, see Nurmi, 1991). During adolescence, individuals become increasingly interested
in future occupation, education, and family (Nurmi, 1989b). By contrast, adolescents’
interest in leisure activities decreases with age. The majority of the research on
developmental changes is based on age-group comparisons, although similar results
have been found in longitudinal studies (Nurmi, 1989b).
These results are in accordance with the life span theory of adolescent development
(Nurmi, 1991, 1993): A substantial proportion of adolescents’ future hopes and interests
focus on the major developmental tasks of this period. The finding that ado-
98 Socialization and Self-Development
lescents become increasingly interested in these topics with age may reflect the fact
that as the transitions come closer, they increasingly motivate adolescents’ thinking
(Nurmi, 1989a).
Young people not only construct goals that are in accordance with age-graded developmental
tasks and role transitions, but they also continuously reconstruct their
personal goals to match the specific stages of a particular transition they are experiencing.
For example, Salmela-Aro et al. (2000) showed that women who were facing a
transition to parenthood not only had goals that reflected this particular transition
overall but also reconstructed their goals to match with the specific stages of this transition:
Womens’ personal goals changed from achievement-related topics to pregnancy,
then to the birth of a child, and finally to taking care of the child and motherhood.
Moreover, Heckhausen and Tomasik (2002) found that vocational goals become more
sober and less glorious when the actual vocational transition moves closer.
A variety of institutional transitions and tracks also provide a basis for adolescents’
future-oriented goals. For instance, Klaczynski and Reese (1991) found that collegepreparatory
high school students held more career-oriented values and educational
goals, and projected their future goals further in the future, compared with vocational
school students. By contrast, vocational school students’ goals focused more on preparation
for adulthood and attainment of adult status than did those of college-preparatory
high school students. Similar results have been found for the interpersonal domain of
life. Salmela-Aro and Nurmi (1997) found that young adults’ life situation, such as being
married and having children, predicted their subsequent family-related goals. By
contrast, being single predicted turning to self-focused, existential goals.
Consequences Individual motivation and personal goals were assumed to play an important
role in the ways in which adolescents select their future environments and direct
their lives. Along this assumption, Schoon and Parsons (2002) found that adolescents’
aspirations at the age of 16 predicted their occupational aspirations during
young adulthood. Moreover, Nurmi et al. (2002) found that the more young adults emphasized
the importance of work-related goals and the more they thought they progressed
in the achievement of such goals, the more likely they were to find work that was
commensurate with their education and the less likely they were to be unemployed after
graduation. Furthermore, concrete college goals have also been found to predict
subsequent college attendance (Pimentel, 1996). Similarly, young adults’ family-related
goals predict their subsequent moving toward marriage or living in cohabitation relationships
(Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 1997), as well as the actual age of cohabitation and
marriage (Pimentel, 1996). By contrast, young adults’ self-focused, existential types of
goals have been shown to predict subsequent negative life events, such as breaking up
of an intimate relationship.
Optimism and Control Beliefs In order to be active agents in the selection of their future
developmental trajectories, adolescents’ personal goals need to be evidenced in
their positive thinking about the future and belief in personal control. The research suggests
not only that a majority of adolescents show much interest in their future but also
that they are relatively optimistic about it and believe in their personal control (e.g.,
Research On Socialization into Adulthood 99
Brown & Larson, 2002; Nurmi, 1989a). Moreover, adolescents construct the view of
their personal future in ways that support their optimism. For example, they do consider
negative life events, such as divorce (Blinn & Pike, 1989), alcoholism, and unemployment
(Malmberg & Norrgård, 1999), to be less likely in their own future life than
in that of other people.
In addition, adolescents’ beliefs concerning the future become more internal and
optimistic with age (Nurmi, 1989a). However, present institutional environments are
associated with the ways in which adolescents attribute causes for their behavioral outcomes.
For example, Klaczynski and Reese (1991) found that college-preparatory high
school students made more internal attributions for positive educational outcomes
than did vocational school students. Moreover, Malmberg and Trempala (1998) showed
that vocational school students were less optimistic about their success in the future
than were secondary school students.
Adolescents’ Fears Adolescents also have fears and worries about their future that are
typically concerned with three major topics (Nurmi, 1991). First, young people typically
report concerns related to dealing with normative developmental tasks, such as
becoming unemployed, failing at school, and facing a divorce (Solantaus, 1987). Second,
some adolescents are concerned about possible negative life events that may
happen to their parents and family members, such as health problems and divorce.
The third class of adolescents’ fears concern society-level events, such as nuclear war
(Solantaus, 1987) or environmental problems (Poole & Cooney, 1987). These differences
in adolescents’ fears and concerns reflect the historical time and topics that are
discussed in the mass media and in public during a particular era (Nurmi, 1991). For
example, the high rates of concerns related to nuclear war were typical in Western Europe
in the early 1980s, whereas concerns about global issues such as pollution have
been reported in subsequent decades (Nurmi, Salmela-Aro, & Ruotsalainen, 1994).
Personal Goals as Interpersonal Negotiation The construction of personal goals is not
solely the outcome of individual cognitive processing but is shared by other people, such
as parents, friends, and peers (Nurmi, 2001). For example, Meegan and Berg (2001)
found that college students appraised the majority of their goals as either directly or indirectly
shared, whereas only a minority of their goals were considered purely as their
own. When Malmberg (1996) asked adolescents about the key sources of information
concerning future education, occupation, and family life, parents were reported as the
most used sources followed by peers, school friends, the mass media, and schools.
The Role of the Family The kinds of goals adolescents have for their own future and
the kinds of goals parents overall have for their adolescent child’s future are closely similar:
Both adolescents’ and parents’ goals concerning adolescents’ future lives typically
concern education, occupation, family, and leisure activities, whereas the fears of both
groups concern health-related issues, education, and work (Lanz, Rosnati, Marta, &
Scabini, 2001). Similarly, parents and their adolescent child share similar kinds of educational
goals (Trusty & Pirtle, 1998), educational aspirations (Bandura, Barbaranelli,
Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001), occupational aspirations (Jodl, Michael, Malanchuk, Eccles,
& Sameroff, 2001), and values overall (Kasser, Ryan, Zax, & Sameroff, 1995). In
100 Socialization and Self-Development
addition, mothers and fathers play a similar role in adolescents’ future-oriented goals
(Trusty & Pirtle, 1998).
Research has also shown that parental characteristics, beliefs, and parenting practices
are associated with the kinds of goals adolescents have. High level of education
among parents, involvement in adolescents’ school programs (Wilson & Wilson, 1992),
high levels of parental advice (Jenkins Tucker et al., 2001), close identification with the
parent (Jodl et al., 2001), low levels of parental control and positive family interaction
(Glasgow et al., 1997), and nurturance (Kasser et al., 1995) are associated in adolescence
with high educational aspirations, interest in future education and occupation,
and internality and optimism concerning the future.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of this research is based on cross-sectional data.
Consequently, we cannot be sure that it is parents who contribute to the kinds of goals
their adolescent children have. Although parents’ goals and values may provide a basis
for those of adolescents by means of modeling, advice, and negotiating (Nurmi, 2001),
there are several alternative explanations. First, both parents’ and adolescents’ goals
may be influenced by the same sources, such as socioeconomic background and related
cultural values. Second, it is possible that adolescents’ aspirations, such as emphasizing
the importance of education and subsequent high achievement, are reflected also in
parents’ aspirations concerning their children. Third, it is possible that the kinds of aspiration
and goals adolescents have concerning education, for instance, influence their
parents’ child-rearing patterns. In addition, siblings also play a role in the ways in which
adolescents think about their future (Jenkins Tucker, Barber, & Eccles, 1996).

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