Background: Both developmental and psychoanalytic theories stress the importance of romantic
involvement for gaining autonomy from parents. It is, however, unclear whether the importance assigned to
romantic affairs as well as the spill-over in parent-child relationships seen in Western countries can also be
found in adolescents with other cultural backgrounds. In addition, the capacity to regulate distress in romantic
encounters needs to be explored in adolescents from the majority world.
Method: In a cross-cultural study on adolescents from 20 nations (N= 12.075), coping with stress in the family
and romantic encounters was assessed in adolescents from seven regions of the world. The adolescents
filled in instruments to asses stress in both domains as well as their coping behavior when stress in the family
and the romantic domain emerged.
Results: In general, levels of family-related stress as reported by adolescents were substantially higher than
romantic stress in most regions. Particularly high were the family-related stress levels in adolescents from
Southern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. Adolescents from Central Europe and North
America experienced lower stress with parents. As expected, adolescents were much more active in dealing
with stress in the romantic domain than in the family domain, suggesting that differences in power balance
did not allow for as much negotiating with parents as with the romantic partners.
Conclusions: The results highlight that increasing autonomy is still a stressful task in most adolescents all
over the world, leading to comparably high levels of parent-related stress. Coping with stress related to family
relationships and romantic partnerships is a major focus; the amount of energy focused on each domain varies
in accordance with cultural norms.