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Adolescents and their family

Family dynamics begin to undergo important changes when the children reach puberty. These changes are often received with surprise and without preparation. Disagreements between parents and children tend to become accentuated. The submissive attitude of many children disappears and they openly confront their parents’ opinions. In some cases, the crisis reaches dimensions out of the family’s control and they need professional help. Fortunately, the adolescent “storm” often passes quickly and may not be even noticed.

The generation gap

Throughout history there have been, and doubtless there will continue to be, important disagreements between parents and children, particularly during the teenage years. The basic questions we must ask are the following:

What do parents and children specifically disagree about?

Are these differences really important? Are they temporary or permanent?

Different studies about adolescence have shown that the reasons for the disagreements have not changed much over the past one hundred years. Nevertheless, we must not forget that, although the reasons for disagreements are similar, the social changes in our times have made the parent-child relationship even more complicated.

What should be done to avoid these arguments or to improve an already deteriorated relationship?

Let us look at a strategy which is specified in two steps:

1.Acknowledge the real nature of the «generation gap».

Several recent studies prove that the generation gap is not as deep as is often shown by the media. On the contrary, although the behavior of the adolescents differed significantly from that of their parents, the values, attitudes and beliefs continue to be similar.

How is this contradiction explained?

Adolescents are determined to find their own identity and to do this they explore several alternatives. They seem to accept any new idea that comes along. But in fact, they do not discard the values learned in the family. If parents understand this, they can exercise much more tolerance about their children’s rebellion or their «mad» ideas and later, they will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

2.Develop a good communication system.

When disagreements arise, communication is vital. Two basic attitudes can be taken when facing any real or potentially conflicting situation:

  • keeping the communication channels closed or
  • keeping them open.

Adolescent nature is to withdraw when faced with the first option. By contradiction, parents tend to exercise this route of communication, of closed channels.

Relationship styles

Different studies show wide differences in the way families relate to each other in their intimate life:

• The permissive style is that of parents who contribute much emotional support but exhibit very little control. They are ready to listen to their children and to talk to them, but they set virtually no restrictions for them.

• Parents who exercise a negligent style are extremely lax in the discipline and do not give them time, listen to them or encourage them. For them, children are a burden or an obstacle which hinders them from living their own lives.

• Parents categorized as authoritarian offer their children very little emotional support; however, they want to control their behavior very closely, imposing very strict rules. These parents hold the absolute control of power.

• Finally, democratic parents exercise control over their children, but at the same time offer an important emotional support, which provides a good attitude of dialogue in the family. The final decisions are made by the parents, but not without first having analyzed other positions and points of view held by family members.

These studies have not only offered a description of each parental style, but in the follow up of the children of these families, behavioral patterns generally associated with the corresponding styles have been observed.

• Children of permissive parents are usually creative and original, but tend to feel insecure. This could be explained by saying that many of these adolescents interpret their parents’ permissive attitude as a sign of lack of pride and love for them. Although it may seem strange, many adolescents wish that their parents had banned certain things.

• Children of negligent parents do not possess the best emotional inheritance. They are given their freedom too soon and their parents do not care what they do with this freedom. The result is a lack of ability to establish good interpersonal relationships and the tendency to suffer from poor self-esteem. There are no apparent positive effects of this style.

• Children of authoritarian parents do not seem to benefit from parental autocracy. In fact, most of the studies identify this style as not at all desirable. In young people from authoritarian families, there are higher rates of delinquency and aggressiveness than in any of the others. They also tend to suffer from a poor self-concept and develop a negative attitude toward their parents’ ideas and beliefs.

• Finally, children of democratic parents experience satisfactory feelings with respect for themselves and a positive attitude toward their parents’ values. In general, this style is the most desirable and positive according to most of the sociological studies which have been carried out on this subject.

It is highly recommendable to provide emotional support and to exercise a suitable degree of control over the children. Adolescents need first the deep friendship with his parents plus their support and availability. Only then can the parents exercise control over their adolescent children.

What adolescents expect

Lawrence Schiamberg1, from Michigan State University, analyzed several studies about adolescence and derived a list of attitudes and behaviors adolescents desire in their parents :

Adolescents want…

  1. …their parents to be interested in them and help them. They want their parents’ attention, even when often they do not give the impression they want it.
  2. …their parents to listen to them and to try to understand them. They want their parents’ attention, even when often they do not give the impression they want it.
  3. …their parents to offer them love and acceptance. Perhaps they do not agree, but the dialogue itself provides emotional well being for the young person.
  4. …their parents to trust them.This is not necessarily to take advantage of such trust, but to show themselves and their parents that they can exercise a certain amount of freedom.
  5. …to be given a certain amount of autonomy. Autonomy is an attribute which develops in adolescence; if their parents oppose it, the growth will continue, but in an unsuitable manner.

1. SCHIAMBERG, L. B., Human development. London: Collier Macmillan, 1985.

MELGOSA, Julián. To Adolescents and Parents. Madrid: Editorial Safeliz, 2023, pp. 62 -67

Adolescents and their family ADVENT7