Eileene Welker

Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Tuscarawas County

If you are a parent of a teen, do these statements sound familiar? He won’t do anything around the house. She’s always in her room. He is always on the phone. She can spend an hour on her hair; why can’t she spend five minutes to empty the dishwasher? I can’t stand the way teens dress. I’m worried that they may try drugs or become sexually active.

Despite the fact that most parent-teen relationships are warm and caring, issues of independence and increasing conflict emerge during the teen years. These two connected issues may cause you concern as you try to figure out how to handle them.

In recent years, psychologists have revised their idea of healthy parent-teen relationships. They have found that most teens have warm, close relationships with their parents. They care about their parents’ opinion of them and hold their parents’ opinions in high regard. Many teens who do not have good rapport with their parents have had difficulties with them for years. If your relationship with your child has always been strained, there are ways to relate more positively.

Parents of children in their early teens can expect an increase in the number of arguments with their children. At this time your teen is trying to establish him or herself as an independent person in the household. Once you and your family begin to acknowledge this change, the number of arguments between parents and teens usually declines.

Parents fear loss of control over the adolescent and fear for the adolescent’s safety because of his/her increased independence. Parents are irritated and annoyed with the adolescent’s behavior. Adolescents face stress when pushing for more freedom than parents are willing to grant. When they fail to adhere to parental advice they may engage in deviant behavior. Understanding teens’ developmental stages and their traits as teens can help parents support their teens in developing into independent, responsible adults.

Developmental Stages of Teens

Physical Changes. Adolescents experience rapid rates of growth and maturation of the reproductive organs and glands. Together, these physical changes accomplish the biological task of transforming a child into an adult. Rapid change combined with wide variation among individuals tend to make adolescents extremely sensitive to their appearance. At no other time in life are feelings about the self (self-esteem) so closely tied to feelings about the body (body image).

These physical changes also affect their social relations and emotions. That is why a pimple or being ahead or behind a classmate in physical growth can be so stressful to the teens’ emotions.

Mental Changes. Teens develop their abstract thinking capacities. Before age 11 or 12 children think in terms of concrete objects and groups of objects. By age 16 most adolescents have gone from the simple way of thinking to complex forms of reasoning. They learn to approach a problem systematically. Moral issues become more complex because they understand that two sound rules or principles might conflict. For example: They will understand that in certain situations the values of friendship and honesty conflict. They will struggle with a question about whether someone should report a friend for breaking a rule.

Teens also come to realize that what exists is only one of many possibilities. This is important in facing many choices as they move into adulthood and choose career directions, educational paths and mates. Thus, teens need time alone to think about the many possibilities.  (next)