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The Role of Parents in the Social World of Adolescence (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Observers began to argue that if disagreements with parents center on relatively mundane issues like music and hairstyles, perhaps the storminess of relations between parents and adolescents has been overstated (Rutter, 1995). Parenting prescriptions began to include the implicit advice, “Don’t worry, things will work out fine.” As you might guess, things are not so simple.

Arnett (2000), for example, raises a word of caution. He suggests that conflicts over relatively minor matters are nonetheless stressful for both parents and children. He further warns that the “mundane” matters that adolescents argue with their parents about may not be as trivial as they seem. Rather, they

often concern issues such as when adolescents should begin dating and whom they should date, where they should be allowed to go, and how late they should stay out. All of these issues can serve as proxies for arguments over more serious issues such as substance use, automobile driving safety, and sex. (p. 320)

In other words, some of the behaviors that adolescents categorize as “personal,” their parents probably see as “prudential/conventional” because the behaviors have potentially serious consequences for a teen’s future (see Hasebe, Nucci, & Nucci, 2004; Smetana & Daddis, 2002).

Yet the notion that parents should “let go” and that they should “not worry” seem to have permeated contemporary American culture. Paradoxically, warning signals that adolescents today face greater pressures and dangers than they have in the past are sounding in both the scientific and popular press. The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development in 1996 described the risks facing young adolescents: “Altogether, nearly half of American adolescents are at high or moderate risk of seriously damaging their life chances. The damage may be near term and vivid, or it may be delayed, like a time bomb set in youth” (p. 2). Increasing risks were identified in physical health, in mental health, and in academic preparedness for children ages 10 to 14. Prevalence indicators from the 1980s and ’90s revealed rising rates of death by firearms; more child abuse and victimization; greater use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes; higher suicide rates; decreasing age of first intercourse and thus increasing risk of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; and lower academic achievement, among other worrisome changes. Even though some of these trends have recently leveled off or been reversed, we still feel a combination of helplessness and desensitization when we read statistics such as these. How can we reconcile our assumptions of what young people need, and what adolescence should be like, with the realities of today? More specifically, how should we parent, how should we educate, how should we counsel and consult to meet the needs of contemporary adolescents?

Research on the family as one supportive context for adolescent development has been growing rapidly. Its theoretical framework rests upon Baumrind’s (e.g., 1971, 1978, 1991) studies of parenting styles, in which she identified two important dimensions of parental behavior, each of which is predictive of a particular constellation of child characteristics. First is parental warmth or responsiveness. Responsive parents seem to encourage their children’s self-acceptance, confidence, and assertiveness by being warm, involved, and accepting of their children’s needs and feelings. They take their children’s feelings and expressed needs seriously and are willing to explain their own actions, particularly when they impose limits on the child. The second dimension is parental control or demandingness. Demanding parents apparently foster self-discipline and achievement by making maturity demands on their children. They make and enforce rules, provide consistent supervision or parental monitoring, and confront their children when their behavior does not measure up. According to a large body of research by Baumrind and others, the most effective parenting style, authoritative parenting, combines high responsiveness and high demandingness. It is as if the key to parenting effectiveness is to blend the listening skills and empathy of a well-trained counselor with the firmness of a watchful vice-principal for discipline.

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