Developmental Changes in Social Needs Across Adolescence: Examining Associations Between Social Relationships and Loneliness



White, Nicole

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During adolescence, transformations in social relationships and needs have implications for loneliness. Developmental view on the adolescent social relationships and Qualter et al’s (2015) life-span model of loneliness suggest that changes in self-awareness, desire to be liked by peers, and capacity for intimacy are associated with age-related differences in sources of loneliness. Early adolescents may report increased loneliness when they do not receive support from parents, lack a close friendship, and are not accepted into cliques or peer groups. For middle adolescents, their most proximal sources of loneliness stem from lacking an intimate friendship and not dating or having a romantic partner. To examine the age differences in the importance of different social relationships (parents, peers, and romantic partners) for adolescent loneliness, we used data from 714 middle and high schoolers (51% female, Mean age 13.73, 28% white, 7% African American, 50.8% Hispanic/Latino, 1.3% Asian, and 2% American Indian). Results indicated that family and friend support were negatively associated with loneliness for all youth. As expected, family support was more beneficial in reducing loneliness among 6th graders than 9th graders; no age differences were documented for the associations between friendships and loneliness. These findings provide partial support for the tenets of the life-span model of loneliness and have implications for clinical practice, school settings, and developmental research. To more comprehensively understand loneliness in adolescence, future research should measure quality of adolescent romantic relationships and permission to engage in dating. Furthermore, future research should employ social network analyses to examine how quality and density of peers and peer networks are related to loneliness.



Loneliness, Adolescence, Peer networks, Relationships