11 - Personal Relationships in Adolescence and Early Adulthood  pp. 191-210

Personal Relationships in Adolescence and Early Adulthood

By W. Andrew Collins and Stephanie D. Madsen

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Personal Relationships in Adolescence and Early Adulthood

Personal relationships loom large in both the popular lore and the research literature on adolescence and early adulthood. Explanations of the distinctive behaviors and attitudes of adolescents often point to the impact of the peer group and the young person's friends, and popular culture is suffused with images of “first love” and sexual awakening. Similarly, popular portrayals of early adulthood typically turn on events that occur in the context of friends and romantic partners; witness the popularity of long-running television hits such as Friends. Ironically, however, the behavioral and social science of these age periods commonly gives priority to individualistic accounts of behavior and development, neglecting their salient relational contexts. When relational contexts are considered, the individualistic bias favors constructs of distance (e.g., autonomy, identity) over notions of closeness (e.g., collaboration, mutuality). Only recently have calls for attention to relationships as key contexts for the development of individual competencies begun to redress the imbalance (e.g., Laursen & Bukowski, 1997; Reis, Collins, & Berscheid, 2000).

The focus of this chapter is the personal relationships of individuals during the years from age 12–18, the most commonly accepted age markers for adolescence, to ages 19–28, which has been suggested as the age range for early adulthood (Arnett, 2000; Collins & Van Dulmen, in press). The goals of the chapter are to distill from the literature evidence concerning how adolescents and early adults differ from older and younger age groups and to characterize differences between adolescents and early adults with regard to personal relationships.

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