Parent-Adolescent Conflict (page 2)
Parent-adolescent conflict is commonly reported by parents of teenagers, despite scholars’ overall assertion that adolescent “storm and stress” is a myth (Steinberg, 2001). It appears that while teens themselves may not be “stressed out” by the everyday struggles that typically ensue in families around issues of adolescent autonomy and individuation, parents are!
The Chasens are relieved to see their children growing up. Richard, Sr. is glad that they’ve almost made it through adolescence . . . only one more teenager at home! His wife Joan thinks that their marriage has been challenging, but now she is glad they stayed together. They’ll be a “couple” again in a few short years.
A qualitative study that investigated how parents who considered themselves “normally stressed” by their first child’s transition to adolescence used family systems theory to model how families maintain equilibrium. “From the parents’ perspective, the transition to parenting an adolescent began with a specific, noticeable change in their teenager, which led to a process of adjustment on their part” (Spring, Rosen, & Matheson, 2002, p. 411). The responses of these mostly Caucasian middle-class parents involved effectively reorienting to the needs of their teenagers in order to avoid conflicts. But how typical is parent-adolescent conflict in households with teenagers?
Meta-analyses of studies on parent-adolescent conflict during adolescence reveal little support for the commonly held view that parent-child conflict rises and then falls across early to late adolescence (Laursen, Coy, & Collins, 1998). Both rates of conflict and total amount of conflict declined from early adolescence to late adolescence. Only negative affect was slightly greater during middle adolescence (i.e., the high-school years) than during early adolescence. Such findings suggest that adolescent-parent conflict is less frequent but more intense in middle adolescence (Laursen, Coy, & Collins, 1998).
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents often experience intense conflicts with parents when they disclose their sexuality. Researchers have reported that only about 11% of adolescents receive positive parental responses after disclosing their sexual orientation (D’Augelli & Hershberger, 1993). provides advice for parents whose adolescent “comes out” to them from Ritch Savin-Williams’ (2001a) book titled Mom, Dad. I’m Gay. The guidelines effectively illustrate a family systems perspective on accepting a gay son or daughter.
In a telephone interview study of the nature of adolescents’ conflicts with parents and friends, researchers asked teens to describe all the disagreements they had during the preceding day (Adams & Laursen, 2001). Compared to conflicts with friends, parent-adolescent conflicts more often involved arguments over “daily hassles” with win-lose outcomes and negative (or neutral) feelings afterwards. Compared to parental conflicts, however, arguments with friends involved more relationship issues with no resolution but friendly affect afterwards. Conflicts with parents and friends occurred at about the same rates, but parents usually reported more coercion, whereas friends reported more compromise (Adams & Laursen, 2001). Such results are consistent with the nature of interpersonal negotiation among friends. As one African American adolescent girl told an interviewer in an urban high school, “My friends and I always argue because that’s what friends do.” She also explained, “You know you always argue with your family and friends but that don’t mean you don’t care about them. So it’s always, you gotta have disagreements in a relationship and then happiness comes along with it . . . ” (Way, 1995, pp. 119–120).
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