Mary, as I will refer to her in this paper for the purpose of confidentiality has lived in my neighborhood for many years. Mary is a 14-year-old black adolescent girl and is currently an eighth-grade middle schooler who attends hayfield secondary school. She lives with her mother, father and older sister. At first I was worried she wouldn’t open up to me since we were not close but luckily that was not the case. She willingly answered all my questions honestly and although she often has short answers when I asked her to elaborate she did. In the end Mary and I ended up having an amazing conversation. Despite the fact that at times Mary gave me short answer with these answers that connected to topics and theories that we studied in this class. Mary focused primarily on her family, and friends/friendships and school during our interview. She seemed more hesitant to describe herself.
Unintentionally, Mary and I were able to discuss the family systems theory during the interview. The family systems theory is a perspective on family functioning that focuses on the interconnections and interactions among different family relationships. Adolescence is considered a time period of constant change within a family. This change has been especially drastic in Mary’s family as her older sister moved out of her house and began college this year. Although I knew this prior to the interview, I was curious to see how Mary felt her home life had changed since her sister left and was sure to ask her about it directly. Mary said that her house was quieter and, since they were all busy and her sister and father were away a lot, it is harder to get together as a family now. I asked her clarifying questions and realized that Mary’s father is away on business for typically a week at a time; therefore, Mary and her mom spend the most time together. Due to the order in which Mary listed her family it appears she is closest to her mother. Mary being closest to her mother is expected since they spend the most time together; but regardless, studies have shown that typically children have closer relationships with their mothers. This research has determined that adolescents usually have very different relationships with their mothers and fathers despite the individual’s gender.
However, Mary described her family as close because they have previously spent a lot of time together, but later in the interview she added that recently they have not spent as much time together because they are all very busy. Mary didn’t seem too concerned; instead, she considered this a good thing. Sarah believes that her relationship with her family will become closer in the future, despite the fact that the amount of time they were spending together was decreasing. I found this intriguing so I asked her to elaborate, “Because when I leave the house and when my mother is gone I think it will be even better when we see each other, or when we talk to each other on the phone. I think it will be more special.” Little did mary know, she was stating exactly what studies have shown. While conducting, studies regarding parent-adolescent interactions, researchers concluded that the healthiest families are those that permit the adolescent to develop a sense of autonomy while staying emotionally connected to the family.
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Mary’s response also alludes to the idea of autonomy. Mary’s comment about leaving the house relates to detachment and individuation. Detachment is referred to as the process where adolescent sever emotional attachments to their parents in psychoanalytic theory. According to psychologist’s detachment is not ideal. As previously mentioned, studies show that adolescents should remain emotionally connected to their family; thus, individuation would be better for the adolescent’s mental health. Individuation is the gradual, progressive process of increasing an individual’s sense of being an autonomous, independent person. Individuation allows adolescents to have close family relationships where adolescents are encouraged to develop and assert their individuality healthily.
With Mary’s description of her family and her freedom to participate in extracurricular activities, Mary will likely develop a healthy individuation. Asking Mary about the change in the family dynamic after her older brother left for college also gave insight into her relationship with her sister. It has been found that relationships among siblings often change during adolescence and an adolescent’s relationship with his or her sibling is affected by the quality of his or her relationship with their parents. Since Mary has a good relationship with her parents it would be expected that she would also have a good relationship with her older sister. After our conversation about her family, Sarah and I began discussing her school. Mary goes to hayfield secondary school, a suburban public school located in Alexandria, VA Mary stated that social and economic status is most dividing within the school. It has been found that socioeconomic status is an extremely powerful influence on educational achievement. Adolescents from a higher social class generally have higher academic achievements and longer educational attainment. This academic achievement is based on standardized tests of scholastic ability while knowledge and educational attainment refers to the number of years of schooling completed by an individual. This reflects the fact that individuals’ levels of achievement are affected by the social context in which they develop. Thus, the adolescents that come from homes where their parents value and expect scholastic success are more engaged.
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