Teens and Family Relationships: Parents

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As youths' peer relationships become more central to their lives, there is less time available to spend with their family members. However, the lack of time is not the only reason for this shift away from family. As mentioned in the preceding section LINK, the quality of peer relationships changes during adolescence. These qualitative changes are due to greater cognitive and emotional maturity. As teens become more emotionally mature their relationships with their peers become more trusting, and more emotionally intimate. Cognitive development enables youth to better understand and anticipate the wants, needs, and feelings of their peers. This increased mental and emotional maturity means that adolescents are now better able to offer genuine emotional support and comfort to each other, as well as sensible advice. Thus, the family is no longer the only source of social support.

During early and middle adolescent years, there is usually more frequent conflict between teens and their parents. Often, this is because youth are trying to assert their individuality and are exercising their independence. As discussed in the Self-Identity Section, youth may rebel against their parents' rules and values as part of their identity development process. Sometimes youth openly defy these rules and values, while at other times they do so in private. They may be reluctant to discuss certain topics with their caregivers when they are afraid that such a discussion will get them into trouble.


Another reason youth may refrain from discussing certain things with their parents is to prove to themselves, and to their parents, that they can handle life's tough situations on their own. Instead, when teens turn to their friends for help, they are consulting with each other from a position of equal power and status, which is quite different from consulting with Mom and Dad.

Sometimes youth avoid conversations with their caregivers because they believe their parents "just won't get it," or anticipate that their worries and concerns won't be taken seriously enough. Still, most parents would prefer their children to turn to them in times of trouble. Parents can increase the likelihood of this by making every effort to carefully listen to their teens' feelings, before jumping in with solutions, or "layin' down the law." Moreover, parents should guard against trivializing the concerns of their teen.

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Sometimes teens will "test the waters" by presenting their parents with a hypothetical problem of a "friend" and then gauge their parents' reaction to determine whether or not their parents will treat their own concerns with sensitivity. What may seem like a silly and insignificant problem to an adult with many years of experience can be a monumental problem for a teen experiencing a particular situation for the first time. Usually parents' best approach is to guide their teen to develop their own solution, even if the solution they select is not the most optimal alternative. Such an approach enables teens to practice independent decision-making while still benefiting from the wisdom parents can offer. When parents remain sensitive to these issues, it increases the likelihood that teens will discuss important problems with their parents.

Fortunately, this period of uncomfortable tension and conflict between youth and their parents does not go on forever. Typically youth will become closer to their parents again during late adolescence. As a general rule, if youth and their parents enjoyed a somewhat close, trusting, and loving relationship prior to adolescence, then these same qualities are usually restored during late adolescence when conflict lessens.

The conflict between parents and youth declines for several reasons. First, parents' roles change during late adolescence as they are no longer required to be the rule enforcer, or disciplinarian: Their more mature teens are now better able to police themselves. Second, because of their greater cognitive and emotional maturity, youth are simply better able to have more mature relationships with everyone, including their parents. As adolescents transition into adulthood, parents can begin to enjoy a friendlier and more peer-like relationship with their almost-adult children.

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