A study by Dr. Cheung Hoi Shan and Dr. Sim Tick Ngee examines the interplay between domains, sources and types of social support among Chinese Singaporean adolescents.
Across different domains of an adolescent’s life, parents and peers may exert varying degrees of influence. For instance, while parents may have authority over school- or career-related issues, support from friends may prevail when interpersonal relationships are concerned. This phenomenon is known as the situational hypothesis. While this hypothesis has been predominantly examined in Western contexts, its generalizability to non-Western cultures remains less clear.
To address this gap in current research, a study by Dr. Cheung Hoi Shan (pictured, right) and Dr. Sim Tick Ngee (pictured, left) from the Department of Psychology in NUS tested the situational hypothesis in the context of Singapore with 257 ethnic Chinese adolescents (between 14 – 16 years old) by comparing perceived parental and friend support in two domains of issues—adolescents’ future occupational choices and interpersonal relationships.
The researchers administered questionnaires measuring perceived availability of social support, including emotional support (e.g., listen when the adolescent needed to talk about his or her feelings), informational support (e.g., give advice on the best way to get something done), and instrumental support (e.g., help to carry out a difficult task). Specifically, participants rated the extent to which their parents and friends would be available to help them in the ways listed, pertaining to issues regarding future occupational choices (e.g., which occupation to choose) and interpersonal relationships (e.g., choosing friends).
Contrary to the situational hypothesis, Singaporean parents demonstrated a central influence, although gender differences were observed. Notably, boys perceived greater parental than friend support across both occupational and interpersonal relationship domains. For girls, parents were perceived to provide greater support than friends in the occupational domain, and as an equally available source of support when negotiating interpersonal relationships.
Dr. Cheung commented:
It turned out that Singapore parents were more influential than peers even in the interpersonal relationship domain, where peers typically dominate in Western cultures. This may not be that surprising in hindsight, given the emphasis on parental authority in Singapore.
These findings suggest that Singaporean parents are seen as exercising prominent influence in critical areas of concern for adolescents as compared to friends, thus highlighting the importance of considering cultural factors when applying the situational hypothesis to understand social support in adolescence.
Cheung, H. S., & Sim, T. N. (2017). Social support from parents and friends for Chinese adolescents in Singapore. Youth & Society, 49, 548-564. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0044118X14559502