A Penn State Applied Research Center

Angry mother pointing the finger at her rebellious teenage daughter.

It is commonly believed that adolescence is necessarily a time of storm and stress. Contemporary researchers have cast doubt on this. This is not to say that conflict does not occur, but a better understanding of the source of some of the strife may help improve parent-child relations. Listed below is some information culled from research studies that may help parents, adolescents, and those who serve them.

  • One cause of conflict may be disagreement on who has authority over certain decisions regarding the youth.
  • Change occurs during adolescence, from unilateral parental authority to mutual authority.
  • Both parents and adolescents tend to agree that the parent has authority over some issues:
    • Moral issues (e.g., stealing, lying, breaking promises)
    • Conventional issues (e.g., cursing, manners, talking back to parents)
  • Both parents and adolescents tend to agree that adolescents should have authority over some issues:
    • Personal issues (e.g., music selection, clothing, how allowance is spent, video game and television use)
  • Conflict may occur when a parent sees something as a conventional issue (e.g., chores, cleaning up after oneself, academic achievement) or a health and safety issue (e.g., drug use, friendship choices), but the adolescent sees it as a personal issue.

The Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness has reviewed several programs aimed at helping parents and teens better interact during adolescence. One such program, Parenting Wisely, is a family- and community-based program designed to teach communication and disciplinary skills to parents. The program can be completed individually online or by using a CD-ROM or completed in a class format by using a DVD.

Several randomized controlled trials and pre/post evaluations of Parenting Wisely have been conducted. While maintenance of results has not been assessed, results do suggest that Parenting Wisely is related to improvements in parent satisfaction, parent efficacy, knowledge of adaptive parenting skills, beliefs that adaptive parenting skills are effective, responses to positive and negative child behaviors, lax discipline, over-reactive parenting, number of child problem behaviors, and intensity of child problem behaviors. Study participants have included parents of adolescents and teenage parents/expecting parents. Changes in behavior have been found up to 4 months post intervention.

For more information on this or other programs please contact the Clearinghouse Technical Assistance team who may be reached through live chat, phone 1-877-382-9185, or email Monday through Friday from 9 AM until 5 PM ET.


References and Further Readings:

Dixon, S. V., Graber, J. A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2008). The roles of respect for parental authority and parenting practices in parent-child conflict among African American, Latino, and European American families. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(1), 1. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3125601/

Hollenstein, T., & Lougheed, J. P. (2013). Beyond storm and stress: Typicality, transactions, timing, and temperament to account for adolescent change. American Psychologist, 68(6), 444. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/68/6/444/

Smetana, J. G., & Asquith, P. (1994), Adolescents’ and parents’ conceptions of parental authority and personal autonomy. Child Development, 65: 1147–1162. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00809.x Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7956471

Smetana, J. G., & Gaines, C. (1999). Adolescent‐parent conflict in middle‐class African American families. Child Development, 70(6), 1447-1463. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8624.00105/abstract