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Adolescents in stepfamilies : A Qualitative study

24 July 1998


Existing research documents that adolescents in stepfamilies have more difficulties emotionally, behaviorally and educationally than children in nuclear families or children in single-parent homes . Among stepfamily members, adolescents are seen to have the most difficulty with adjustment. The inherent developmental challenges of adolescence, combined with the complexities of divorce and remarriage, and intensified by the distress imposed by the lack of cultural understanding of these issues, leaves the adolescent in stepfamilies at risk. Most of the limited research with adolescents in stepfamilies is clinical rather than empirical, using observational measures and a quantitative methodology. The purpose of this study is to further elucidate the stepfamily adolescent experience and add to the existing research greater understanding and awareness of this particular family role. A qualitative methodology was employed, including individual audio-taped interviews and focus group discussions to allow and encourage the participants to verbalize their own
experiences. 15 volunteer adolescents from newly formed stepfamilies «5 years since remarriage) participated, ranging in age from 9 to 17 years old. A phenomenological approach to data analysis was used, seeking to uncover shared meanings, patterns and themes through thorough evaluation of the interview data. Results of this study were encompassed into a major theme: The adolescents were "trying to cope, and working to recover from losses in the
stepfamily formation process." Insight into the stepfamily experience of the adolescent was obtained, as was information about specific stepfamily issues that negatively or positively affect adolescents, along with adolescent coping mechanisms and attributes of stepfamilies appreciated by the adolescent.


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