Parent-Adolescent Conflict in Early Adolescence: Precursor to Adolescent Adjustment and Behavior Problems

By Allison, Barbara N. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Parent-Adolescent Conflict in Early Adolescence: Precursor to Adolescent Adjustment and Behavior Problems


Allison, Barbara N., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


ABSTRACT

Parent-adolescent conflict was investigated in a sample of357 early adolescents in grades six, seven, and eight via the Issues Checklist [Prinz, R., Foster, S., Kent, R., and O'Leary, K (1979). Multivariate assessment of conflict in distressed and nondistressed mother-adolescent dyads. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 12, 691-700], an instrument consisting of 40 issues likely to initiate conflict Specific issues generating conflict between adolescents and their parent(s), as well as the frequency and intensity of these con/hcts, were identified. The potential linkages between conflict in the family and adolescent adjustment and behavior problems are discussed, along with the need to develop intervention programs and classroom instructional strategies that focus on conflict between young adolescents and their parents.

Adolescence is viewed as a period of transformation and reorganization in family relationships (Steinberg, 1990). It is marked by shifts in authority from the unilateral authority exercised by parents over their children to mutual authority in which adolescents share in the decision-making process (Youniss and Smollar, 1985). The research on parentadolescent conflict reveals that the majority of families with adolescents report generally satisfying and harmonious relationships (Montemayor, 1983, 1986). However, the shifting and renegotiation of authority is associated with the emergence and escalation of conflict between parents and adolescents (Montemayor, 1986; Paikoff and BrooksGunn, 1991; Steinberg, 1981). Such conflicts tend to focus on the everyday events of family life in the form of calm discussions and mild bickering (Laursen and Collins, 1994). Although conflict is considered normative and an integral component of adolescent close relationships, parent-adolescent conflict in some families is frequent and intense, thereby revealing hostile and acrimonious relations.

Studies investigating parent-adolescent conflict have focused on documenting the normative developmental features of conflict during the adolescent years or the postpubertal period (ages 12-18). Relatively little attention has been given to the prepubertal period of late childhood or the period surrounding the emergence of puberty. This is unfortunate given that the onset of puberty and its associated changes have been cited as catalysts for the transitions observed in family and parent-adolescent relationships and may be responsible for increases in conflict throughout this period if problems are not addressed (Paikoff and Brooks-Gunn, 1991).

The purpose of this study was to examine parent-adolescent conflict during the important, but relatively unexplored, period of late childhood and early adolescence. In this investigation, the frequency and intensity of conflict during the years associated with prepubescence will be identified, as well as the specific issues that typically cause conflict in parent- early adolescent relationships. Further, the author will discuss the linkages between conflict in family relationships during the onset of adolescence and adolescent adjustment and behavior problems.

METHOD

The sample for this investigation comprised 357 young adolescents between the ages of 11-14 years in grades six, seven, and eight in four middle/junior high schools in Ohio. These four schools were each located in urban communities within the state, serving populations that were primarily middle class. The representation of male and female adolescents was nearly equal in the sample (45 and 55%, respectively), as was the number of participants at each of the three grade levels (110-125 per grade). The racial composition of the sample was primarily white (82%), with the remaining 18% comprising Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and multiracial students. At the time of the study, the number of students at each grade level and the gender and racial composition of the sample was closely comparable to that of the school population in the state of Ohio. …

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