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
Joseph Di Prisco; Michael Riera.
Perseus Publishing, 2000
Helping Teenagers into Adulthood: A Guide for the Next Generation
George R. Holmes.
Praeger, 1995
The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers Do the Things They Do
Lynn E. Ponton.
Basic Books, 1997
Handbook of Parenting
Marc H. Bornstein.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.1, 2002 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Parenting Adolescents"
Divergent Realities: The Emotional Lives of Mothers, Fathers, and Adolescents
Reed Larson; Maryse H. Richards.
Basic Books, 1994
Surviving Ophelia: Mothers Share Their Wisdom in Navigating the Tumultuous Teenage Years
Cheryl Dellasega.
Perseus Publishing, 2001
Family and Peers: Linking Two Social Worlds
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
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
Ellen Galinsky.
Perseus Publishing, 1987
Raising Your Child's Inner Self-Esteem: The Authoritative Guide from Infancy through the Teen Years
Karen Owens.
Plenum Press, 1995
Coping with Depression in Young People: A Guide for Parents
Carol Fitzpatrick; John Sharry.
Wiley, 2004
Adolescents, Family, and Friends: Social Support after Parents' Divorce or Remarriage
Kandi M. Stinson.
Praeger Publishers, 1991
Couples, Kids, and Family Life
Jaber F. Gubrium; James A. Holstein.
Oxford University Press, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Keeping Tabs on Teenagers"
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