Relationships with parents
relationships; parent; conflict; youth; teenagers; teens; negotiation;
Many people say there is a lot more conflict with parents when you're a teenager. Conflict is a normal part of any relationship, but sometimes this is more intense because of change. Let's face it, as we get older we change physically, emotionally and in the way we think about and see ourselves. During adolescence these changes can happen quickly. Young people often move away from their parent's beliefs as they are learning about the world, and parents can find this hard.
causes of conflict
When you're a teenager conflict with parents can be full on. This may be because you are changing in so many ways. Parents can sometimes have difficulty coping with all of this and can feel uncertain about how to respond to the person who was once their little child and is now a young adult.
Changes in thinking
As you get older you change and grow in many ways. One of the ways is in how you think. Questions we ask as teenagers become deeper and more abstract than as a young child. So as a young child you might ask, "Why do I have to eat my vegetables?" or "Why can't I play on the road?". Those questions are easy for parents to answer. But as your thinking becomes more complex you might ask "Why have rules in society?" or "Why work from 9 to 5?" or "What is the meaning of life?" This kind of questioning can be harder for parents to answer.
It's a time when you start to think working out the world for yourself. Sometimes your values and beliefs can become different to your parents, leading to conflict.
Changes in how parents deal with conflict
When you were young it was pretty easy for your parents to end a conflict with you. They could just say 'go to your room!' But now you're bigger and louder and it's not so easy for them. It can seem like there are more arguments because they can be more complex and harder to resolve.
As a young child it was a relationship where your parents were the leaders of the family. As you mature it becomes a more equal relationship where you all relate on the same level. This change doesn't happen overnight. The process of moving from one type of relationship to another can be a real struggle and your parents are still responsible for you for, maybe even after you might feel you should be responsible for yourself - so lots of talking about issues is needed.
We all go through developmental stages. While you're going from being a baby, to a toddler, to a child, to teenager, to young adult - your parents are moving through their life cycle as well. They're going from a young adult, to an adult, to middle aged. And we're all having our individual "age related" crises along the way. Psychologists call it "developmental crises" and it's normal for us all to go through these.
You've probably heard of "the mid-life crisis"? Parents may be going through their mid-life crisis while young people can be going through their "identity crisis". All at the same time - in one household. Scary stuff!
Parents coping with changes in you
You grow and change so fast when you're a teenager, your parents can find it hard to keep up. It's a time when you want some independence. You want to think for yourself, to speak for yourself, to form your own values and opinions, to think about your life style and tastes, your emerging sexuality, to have some privacy, to be your own person. In short, this is the time when you are forming your own identity (kind of like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon!). This is another one of those developmental crises - often the toughest to go through.
It can be hard for parents to get used to these changes and the new emerging you. (And it can be hard for you. Sometimes when you are feeling really stressed and uncertain it is easy to want to "take it out" on the people closest to you.)
Apart from all the changes in thinking, emotions and identity, there are huge physical changes going on. Your body can change quite rapidly; it can be hard to cope with. Some people look mature and are treated like a man or woman before they really feel that way inside. Others are wondering why friends have changed before they have and when they'll catch up. It can all be overwhelming.
Parents wanting to protect you
To your parents, your physical growth can be a powerful message that you're about to go out into the world. They've probably learnt (often through making their own mistakes) that the world isn't always a wonderful place. Your parents are probably very much aware that young people can be at risk of getting into difficult and possibly dangerous situations. It can be quite scary for parents not knowing what's happening for you, not to mention imagining what could happen.
Your parents may feel a need to guide you and protect you from harm. The trouble is that part of the adolescent challenge is finding out for yourself. It can seem like parents are interfering. What they more likely want to do is keep you safe. This mismatch of understanding can end up in hassles and arguments. It takes a bit of give and take on both sides to work it out. Parents need to realise that young people need to learn about life for themselves.
This is also a learning time for parents - learning when to step back and when to step in (so be patient with them). Sometimes we learn best by our own mistakes but at other times it's best to listen to other people's wisdom. If it's something that can affect your life for a long time to come, or if it will affect other people, then seriously consider asking your parents or a trusted adult for advice and information before making your decisions. (It helps parents to trust you if they can see that you are really thinking about the consequences and about what you do).
"Parents always think they are right"
You're right; a lot of parents do seem to always think they're right. This can be because parents have had more life experience and sometimes do know more (often in arguments both sides think they are right). On the other hand, sometimes parents are reluctant to admit the times when their son or daughter knows more about something than they do. It can be bewildering for parents experiencing the rapid changes of their son or daughter in adolescence.
If there are other big changes going on in your life, this create more stress and conflict. Some examples of other major change are: moving to a new state or a different part of the state, family breakdown, or getting a new step-family. Try to talk openly with your parents about how this is feeling for you. Also try some relaxation strategies. (see the topic Stress and relaxation)
When families move or migrate from one country to another the whole family faces massive changes. Apart from moving away from the familiar places, friends and family, there can also be huge differences in culture between two countries. Sometimes parents stick with the traditional ways, while younger members of the family begin to take on the traditions of the new country. This can mean a clash of cultures, values, ideas and ways of living life.
It's OK for you to make the first move in dealing with disagreements or conflict with your parents. When you can work out your differences positively, you'll continue to have a good relationship. Here are a few tips:
- Be respectful when discussing any areas of disagreement.
- Be willing to listen to your parent's view.
- Stay calm.
- Be non-blaming, don't accuse.
- Stick to the issue - don't get side tracked into other areas.
- Use a team approach to working out problems - work at it together, think about what you want in common and work out together how you can get there.
- Use a problem solving model like this one:
- Decide together exactly what the problem is.
- Brainstorm the possible solutions - be open and creative.
- Think out the consequences of each possible solution.
- Choose one idea and do it.
- Did it work? If so, congratulate yourself and each other. If not, go back to step 2 and try another idea.
Try out the above ideas but if it's hard to learn conflict resolution and problem solving just by reading it, see if someone can help you. It may be your school counsellor, community health worker or there may be groups running in your local area that can help.
These tools can be used in any conflict situation, not just with your parents. They can be used with grandparents, foster parents, and step-parents or residential care staff and friends. You could try some ideas and tips from our topic Conflict and negotiation.
There are rules at school, in the workplace, at home and in society. There are written rules and unwritten rules. They all have a purpose - although the purpose can be hard to see at times. The basic intention behind any rule is to allow everyone to live together in harmony and to protect everyone's rights.
Some examples are that it is against the law for someone to hit you and injure you. That is an assault. Having that law protects you and keeps the peace. At school, you're expected to be quiet in the classroom when working - this protects the rights of students to learn. At home your parents may want to know all the details about where you're going, with whom and give you a time to be home. This isn't just to invade your privacy and give you a hard time. This is so they can do their job of trying to keep you safe.
"There seem to be different rules for different people and for girls and boys. This leads to conflict."
You're probably right. Although it’s not fair, it's a reflection of the world around us. There are double standards out there for boys and girls. Traditionally there have been different roles for women and men and although things are changing, many of the old ways still remain and this varies from culture to culture. It's great that you want to question this - talk to your parents calmly about how you feel
"What can you do when in trouble with your parents, like being grounded?"
Spend some time thinking about what happened. Why were you grounded? Did you learn anything from the incident that led to you being grounded? Was there any time during the incident that you could have done things differently to avoid the situation getting out of hand? What could you have done differently so that things would have turned out better?
If you still don't think the grounding is fair, try presenting all you have come up with to your parents. If you do this you need to remember the tips for sorting out disagreements (as above); things like being respectful, staying calm and sticking to the point. You could try it this way.
- Point out to your parents what you have learnt.
- Ask how you could show them that you are responsible or have learnt from your mistakes.
- Tell them why you think the grounding is unfair or should be shortened or changed.
- Listen to what they have to say.
One of the most important skills in communication is listening. How hard can that be? If you listen properly it can be almost exhausting. It can also be a precious gift you give to another. If a person feels properly listened to, they feel understood and less alone because someone has taken the time to really care. Listening, really listening, involves several aspects.
- Listening to the meaning, not just the words. To show you understand the meaning, you may want to repeat back what you thought you heard the person tell you but in your own words. Don't get discouraged if they say, "No, no, what I am saying is…" because this means the other person wants you to understand and you're getting there.
- Try and imagine yourself in the other person's position - this can help you understand better.
- Don't butt in or talk about something similar that happened to you. It takes attention away from the other person and puts the focus on you.
- Your body language is important too, it shows that you're listening. Face the person. If you look out the window or doodle on paper they'll feel you're not really listening. Let them know you're still listening by nodding and saying words that show you are listening, like, "yes", "uhuh" or "go on".
Communicating well means telling each other what you think - the good and the not so good, but doing it in a non-blaming way if it's the not so good.
Parents are protective
"My parents are a bit over-protective and they don't let me do stuff other kids do. Should I say something to them?"
Yes, it would be a good idea to talk to them. Let them know how you are feeling. You could discuss some of the types of things other young people are doing that you think are OK, but that you're not allowed to do. Then listen to your parents and try and understand where they're coming from. Ask them what you could do to convince them you could manage the situation you would be in. You're right - communication is the key to working this out.
"What to do when you are not allowed to do something you want to do?"
Again, this is about talking to your parents about what you want to do and having good reasons as to why you should be able to do that. You need to reassure them that what you're doing is safe or OK and show how you know it's safe or OK. Now it's your turn to listen to what they have to say. If you've explained your side clearly and calmly and lessened their worries, they might be prepared to change their minds. However, be prepared for them to have good reason for you not to do whatever it is - it's OK to respectfully ask them to explain this to you if you don't know why.
The good news is that all the studies indicate that generally things settle down when people are about 18. What they can't agree on is why this gets better. Some say it's because your parents have finally begun to see you as the young adult you are. Some say it's because you've worked through all the tough growth in your thinking and emotions and your physical changes. Others again, say it's just because many young people move out of home around eighteen and get away from their parents!
As you move through adolescence and into young adulthood, your relationships with your parents seem to get better. Parents can be one of your best supports, supporting young people through the good times and the bad.
Note: Some young people may have parents who act in an abusive way, rather than simply being strict. If this is the case for you, seek advice. Your local child welfare agency can offer advice and/or assistance. You can phone anonymously for advice if this would be more helpful.
It is also important to remember that it is not OK for young people to be abusive to parents. Being abusive won't convince them you are right - it is more likely to have the opposite effect.
- Child Abuse Report Line 13 1478 (24 hours, 7days).
- The Second Story Youth Health Service (TSS)
- Central: 57 Hyde St, Adelaide
- South: 50a Beach Rd, Christies Beach
- North: 6 Gillingham Rd, Elizabeth
- West: 51 Bower St, Woodville
- Youth Healthline 1300 13 17 19, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm
- Shop Front Youth Health and Information Service: (08) 8281 1775.
- School counsellors.
- Community Health Centres.
Feldman, S Shirley and Gehring, Thomas, M (1990) "Changing Perceptions of Family Cohesion and Power across Adolescence" in Adolescent Behaviour and Society edited by Ralph Muus, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co, NY.
Montemayor, Robert (1990) "Parents and Adolescents in Conflict" in Adolescent Behaviour and Society edited by Ralph Muus, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co, NY.
Parsons, Alexandra and Iain (1988) "Making it From 12 to 20: How to survive your teens", Watermark press, Sydney, Aust.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).