Associate 2013-14

Eva Marie Pomerantz


Early Adolescence in the United States and China

In the United States, as well as other Western countries, adolescence is viewed as a time during which children often distance themselves from their parents in an effort to establish their own unique identities. The focus on peers during this phase of development is assumed to be inevitable, as is disengagement from adult-valued activities such as school.

During her Center appointment Professor Pomerantz will examine whether American ideas about adolescence reflect a universal phenomenon or Western cultural beliefs that influence how children and parents navigate this phase of development. To this end, she will contrast American ideas about adolescence with Chinese ideas about adolescence.

Using data from her recently completed longitudinal study, Professor Pomerantz will attempt to understand why American, but not Chinese, children’s connectedness (e.g., feeling of closeness and trust) to their parents declines over the early adolescent years. She will examine how conceptions of adolescence differ in the two countries, and how these differences contribute to interactions between children and parents.

The key idea guiding Professor Pomerantz’s research is that because independence is emphasized less in China than in the United States, establishing one’s own unique identity is not a priority as children take their first step toward adulthood with their entry into adolescence. Instead, given the Chinese emphasis on filial piety–that is, honoring the family–the emphasis is on fulfilling one’s responsibilities to parents, rather than moving away from them.

Professor Pomerantz will examine directly if children and mothers hold different conceptions of adolescence in the United States and China. She will test whether these different conceptions have tradeoffs for children in both countries, such that American children benefit emotionally as well as socially but experience costs in terms of learning, whereas the reverse may be true for Chinese children.

On the theoretical side, this project has the potential to change theories of adolescence by giving greater prominence to the role of cultural conceptions. On the practical side, the results could indicate that efforts should be directed toward changing cultural conceptions to support more positive adjustment among children during adolescence.