Parent-Adolescent Conflict in Early Adolescence

By Allison, Barbara N.; Schultz, Jerelyn B. | Adolescence, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview
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Parent-Adolescent Conflict in Early Adolescence


Allison, Barbara N., Schultz, Jerelyn B., Adolescence


Adolescence is viewed as a period of transformation and reorganization in family relationships (Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Steinberg, 1990). Prominent among these changes is the shift that occurs from unilateral authority exercised by parents over their children to mutual authority in which adolescents share in the decision-making process and exercise increasing amounts of personal jurisdiction over their own behavior (Youniss & Smollar, 1985). This shifting and renegotiation of authority and control, along with a host of correlated biological, social, cognitive, and self-definitional/personal identity transitions that occur during this period, results in transformations in the pattern of family interactions and is associated with the emergence and escalation of conflict between adolescents and their parents (Montemayor, 1986; Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Steinberg, 1990).

Research supports the claim that conflict is an integral component of parent-adolescent relationships (Laursen, 1995). Researchers have focused on the normative features of parent-adolescent conflict, including its frequency and intensity, developmental features throughout adolescence, the types of issues creating conflict, and its variation across families (Barber, 1994; Montemayor, 1983; Smetana, 1989; Steinberg, 1981). Specifically, conflict has most often, but not universally (Laursen & Collins, 1994), been reported to be at its highest levels in early adolescence and at its lowest levels in late adolescence (Clark-Lempers, Lempers, & Ho, 1991; Furman & Buhrmester, 1992; Galambos & Almeida, 1992; Montemayor & Hansen, 1985; Montemayor, 1983; Offer, 1969; Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Steinberg, 1990). Conflict has also been linked to puberty or the degree and/or timing of pubertal maturation, as distinguished from age, in a number of studies (Holmbeck & Hill, 1991; Hill, Holmbeck, Marlow, Green, & Lynch, 1985a, 1985b; Steinberg, 1981, 1987, 1988; Steinberg & Hill, 1978), while several other studies have reported little or no association between pubertal status and conflict in the family (e.g., Laursen & Collins, 1994). Parent-adolescent conflict has been found to vary as a function of gender, with conflict more often involving adolescents and their mothers than fathers, and daughter-mother dyads in particular (Hill, 1988; Montemayor, 1986; Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Collins & Russell, 1991; Smetana, 1989; Steinberg, 1981). Finally, changes in parent-adolescent relationships during adolescence, including variation in conflict, have been found to be mediated by family context, family atmosphere, family structure, parental work status, personality characteristics and cognitive attributions of adolescents and parents, parenting styles, family interactional patterns, and ethnic-racial and cultural context of the family (Anderson, Hetherington, & Clingempeel, 1989; Barber, 1994; Collins, 1990; Flanagan, 1990; Hill & Holmbeck, 1987; Jacob, 1974; McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000; Montemayor, 1986; Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Reuter & Conger, 1995; Smetana, 1988; Smetana & Gaines, 1999).

Although much has been learned about the nature of parent-adolescent conflict, the bulk of the research has focused on conflict throughout the pubertal and postpubertal years of adolescence, encompassing ages 12 to 18, or conflict linked to pubertal status per se (Montemayor, 1983; Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Steinberg, 1990). Much less attention has been paid to conflict during early adolescence. This is unfortunate considering that the early years of adolescence have been associated with relational changes in the family, including heightened levels of conflict between young adolescents and their parents. Further, the study of changes in parent-adolescent conflict during adolescence has itself been truncated by the paucity of information on conflict in the prepubertal period of later childhood and the transitional years between late childhood and early adolescence (Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Hill, 1988).

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