Parents of Teenagers

Children entering their teenage or adolescent years present new challenges for their parents. Most of these challenges stem from parents' preconceived ideas that their children will become difficult, moody and oppositional just because that is the stereotypical view of teenagers' behavior. Most literature on this topic reinforces this view with titles reflecting the idea that teenagers are hard to parent. Parents are generally most worried about their children entering the teenage years; the only other period of development that gets parents as worried is when their children become toddlers.

Although many of the struggles parents face when trying to raise teenagers may be superficial, there is still some truth to the idea that children undergo certain changes when they reach adolescence that make them more difficult to parent. The most obvious of these changes is puberty. Teenagers change physically from going through growth spurts that make them physically more imposing to developing sexual characteristics that are most pronounced with teenage girls developing breasts and teenage boys beginning to grow facial hair. Teenagers also begin to become sexually active, and their new interest in the opposite sex may prove disconcerting for parents. Changes brought on by puberty may also get teenagers to reassess their relationships with the rest of their family, which may cause tensions.

Teenagers also develop their thought processes compared to when they were children. They start to think about the hypothetical and the abstract, and these new thoughts and ideas can be interpreted as challenging the role of parents. This challenge may result in the equilibrium of the family changing in order to reflect the new maturity of the child. Some parents may have trouble adapting to this and may resent the change in the balance of power. Teenagers will also start to bicker and argue with their parents as they see things in a new light. This can cause problems within the family unit as these outbursts are interpreted as challenging the status quo and the parents' authority. For example, a teenager may not care whether his or her room is clean and may ask the parents, in not necessarily the nicest manner, why it concerns them when the room, after all, belongs to the teen.

The teenage years often see a change in adolescents' social circles. They will be able to socialize more independently than when parents were often in charge of organizing playdates. The irony of this is that parents may no longer be the planners but instead become the facilitators as they have to chauffeur their children around. However, because teenagers can now plan their own social life, the people they choose as friends may not meet the approval of their parents, and this can cause conflict in the family. They may also start dating, and this can lead to similar problems. Adolescents may also start to experiment with alcohol, smoking and drugs, and this experimentation can lead to more arguments. However, teenagers still take into account the views of their parents when they are given more freedom; therefore, the path of arguments and conflict is not a foregone conclusion.

Parents of teenagers are also going through changes in their lives, and this can often be overlooked when trying to analyze the cause of friction between teenagers and their parents. Parents of teenagers are normally around 40 years old, and this can be psychologically quite a change as they realize they are closer to dying than being born. They can be dealing with a midlife crisis, and this can make it harder to accept that their children need a different form of attention.

Parents may also find themselves sandwiched between their changing children and their own elderly parents, who may be starting to experience a rapid deterioration of their health. This can cause parents to feel helpless and not want their children to grow up, and this attitude can also cause major friction. As the teenager goes through life changes, the parent is also going through important life issues at the same time. The two life shifts occurring at the same time can be a major cause of friction in the family.

Parents of Teenagers: Selected full-text books and articles

Field Guide to the American Teenager: A Parent's Companion By Joseph Di Prisco; Michael Riera Perseus Publishing, 2000
Handbook of Parenting By Marc H. Bornstein Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.1, 2002 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Parenting Adolescents"
Family and Peers: Linking Two Social Worlds By Kathryn A. Kerns; Josefina M. Contreras; Angela M. Neal-Barnett Praeger, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Intimacy in Preadolescence and Adolescence: Issues Linking Parents and Peers, Theory, Culture, and Findings"
Parental Belief Systems: The Psychological Consequences for Children By Irving E. Sigel; Ann V. McGillicuddy-DeLisi; Jacqueline J. Goodnow Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Part II "Focus on Normal Families of Adolescents"
The Six Stages of Parenthood By Ellen Galinsky Perseus Publishing, 1987
Couples, Kids, and Family Life By Jaber F. Gubrium; James A. Holstein Oxford University Press, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Keeping Tabs on Teenagers"
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