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Identity Dynamics and Peer Relationship Quality in Adolescents With a Chronic Disease: The Sample Case of Congenital Heart Disease

Rassart, Jessica MA*; Luyckx, Koen PhD*; Apers, Silke MSc, RN†,‡; Goossens, Eva MSc, RN†,‡; Moons, Philip PhD, RN†,‡,§on behalf of the i-DETACH Investigators

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: October 2012 - Volume 33 - Issue 8 - p 625–632
doi: 10.1097/DBP.
Original Article

Objective: Identity formation has been found to relate to psychosocial and disease-specific functioning in chronically ill adolescents. Therefore, examining antecedent factors of identity formation in this population is needed. The main goal of the present longitudinal study was to examine how peer relationship quality influenced identity formation in adolescents with congenital heart disease (CHD).

Method: Adolescents with CHD were selected from the database of pediatric and congenital cardiology of the University Hospitals Leuven. A total of 429 adolescents (14–18 years) with CHD participated at time 1; 401 were matched on gender and age with community controls recruited at secondary schools. Adolescents completed questionnaires on identity and peer relationship quality. Nine months later, at time 2, 382 patients again completed these questionnaires.

Results: Adolescents with CHD were generally found to be as competent as controls in addressing the task of identity formation. Moreover, the importance of peer relationships for identity formation was demonstrated. Supportive peer relationships positively influenced the process of identifying with the identity commitments made. Furthermore, such relationships protected adolescents from getting stuck in the exploration process. Finally, reciprocal pathways were uncovered; a maladaptive exploration process was also found to negatively affect peer relationships.

Conclusion: The present study found peer relationship quality to be an important antecedent factor of identity formation in adolescents with CHD. Future research should investigate how changes in peer relationships and identity relate to well-being in these patients.

*School of Psychology and Child and Adolescent Development, Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

Center for Health Services and Nursing Research, Department of Public Health, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

Department of Congenital & Structural Cardiology, University Hospital Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

§The Heart Centre, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Address for reprints: Jessica Rassart, KULeuven, Department of Psychology, Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium. e-mail:

Disclosure: The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Received December , 2011

Accepted June , 2012

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.