Notes for Adolescents and their Families
School of Family and Consumer Sciences 400.404/504    Instructor: D. Witt

General Notes on Family Relationships in Middle Childhood and Adolescence.
Reciprocal Socialization seems to be at work throughout parent-child relationships.. This is the process by which children and adolescents socialize parents, just as parents socialize them.
Parents are attempting to purposefully socialize their children, while children are unconsciously socializing their parents. A related term for some of this phenomena is Synchrony - the carefully coordinated interaction between the parent and the child or adolescent in which, often unknowingly, they are attuned to each otherís behavior.

From middle childhood and on through adolescence, children begin to spend more time with peers and less time with parents. They are changing their reference group, or desatellizing. Almost naturally, parents expectations of their children begin to change as children begin to redefine their own place in society.

Part of the reason that children begin to be critical of parental values and attitudes, aside from an expanding cognitive ability, is because of their need to individuate themselves away from their family of origin. At some point the developing child begins to see themselves as independent agents, often long before they are actually capable of independent living and thinking.  This is a question not of reality but of perception.   Mead's idea regarding the cumulative internalization of societal expectations is the root cause of moving emotions and feelings away from family and towards others - and a major cause of maturity.  Obviously, if an individual does not internalize social expectations, and does not develop a self of self apart from family, then age is irrelevant.  Certainly you may know someone who is in their 30s, 40s, or 50s who seems to have never really matured.

As children move through our stages of interest, their parents are also continuing to change and develop.
Parental Divorce is a reality for 35-40% of all teenagers indicating that parents may not be as solid and steady as they would like to believe. This gives rise to the idea of nontraditional families, such as single parents, cohabitation of a parent with a non-relative, and so on.
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The Marital Satisfaction of parents tends to decrease as children move into adolescence.

  • Teenagers are just burdensome - they have an increased capacity to do damage to themselves or others
  • Family economic burdens continue to rise as college is added to the list of costs of parenting
  • Parents may (be forced) to re-evaluated their work and career. Career reevaluations
  • Time perspective - parents may be less hopeful about the future as their experience in the real world increases
  • Health and body concerns

Age of parents at childbearing is a factor in family relationships. In the case of teenage parents, the parent(s) is/are attempting to parenting while still working through the developmental tasks of adolescence and early adulthood. Identity, Occupational commitments, Intimacy issues all exist here.  On the other hand, there is a national trend toward delaying marriage and delaying child-rearing until late 20s and early 30s. Largely because of demands to complete educational goals and begin careers, these families have fewer children and tend to be older, more stable, and have more family resources to spend on fewer children.

Sociocultural and Historical Changes
Social events such as war, economic depression, famine and drought, have historically had effects on the family. The Great Depression produced economic turmoil, discontent, emotional depression, marital conflict, inconsistent child rearing, poor hygiene, and unhealthy lifestyles.  Such events take place time to time and will certainly continue to occur.  One need only to think about energy costs and consumption, global warming, and terror attacks to see this.

The role of the elderly grandparents began to change as people started living longer and can be of service to grandchildren and their own adult children.  In some cases, grandparents do a far amount of parenting and advice giving, in addition to enormous financial assistance.   This situation works out well for young families until the grandparent becomes unable to live independently and becomes a financial burden on the children.  Firm planning and budgeting long before the time comes to act is the key to successful navigation of this final stage of life.

Technological changes / Media proliferation and influence.  While always containing elements prone to positive social value, technological changes are almost always used in ways to do ill to society and its members.  Our technology itself doesn't care what we do with it. Thus, since the 1950s busy parents have found short term solutions to parenting by allowing television to do the babysitting.
Just in the last 30 years, our society has gone from vinyl media, to compact discs and DVD formats, to digital media over the internet.  Consider the difference in environmental influences between, on the one hand, a baby boomer growing up with highly restricted television choices, little or no popular culture outside actually going to the movies or listening to the radio. On the other hand, a child of the 1990s grew  up in an environment brimming with a dizzying array of media formats and content choices, and actually was encouraged by advances in computer related technology to steal media through file sharing.

The boomer would have to make a Herculean effort to find inappropriate media content which would be tame by today's standards. The 90s baby has probably stumbled accidentally into inappropriate internet websites Imagine what that child might find if a little effort was put into the project.

Parent Child Dynamics are changing, mostly due to the effects of both parents working full time jobs away from home. Maturity only begins in middle childhood, and the process takes decades to complete. Skills such as native creativity and problem solving require some significant adult supervision. When both parents work 40+ hour jobs (college professors, for example work about 56 hours a week), time for children and family tends to get pushed back behind relaxation after work in front of the television.. Parents, especially mothers, play am indispensable role in the development of a child's values and attitudes. Ensuring that children follow appropriate routine and guidelines.

Family Processes and Parent-Adolescent Relationships
One-way socialization - the social mold perspective - was popular until around the mid 1960's. Here, parents thought themselves to be completely responsible for their child's behavior and were instructed to provide a wholesome environment - restricting information about various issues - sex, drugs, rock 'n roll.

Reciprocal socialization - the two way approach was probably always the actual process that occurred. Here attitudes and behaviors were "negotiated" in mutual influence (Maslow) and mutual regulation (Erikson).. Synchrony refers to coordinated interaction between p-c in which they are attuned to each other's behavior.

The Construction of Relationships is an interpersonal process. Developmental construction views share the belief that as individuals grow up they acquire modes of relating to others. Either a person has continuous, stable relationships and comes to expect these in life, or a person has more discontinuous, changing, unstable relationships and sees this as the normal way relationships develop.

I have a theory that individuals begin to develop relationships at birth through pure Sensory information (i.e., being cuddled, nurtured, fed, kept comfortable). During childhood, these sensory feelings are reinterpreted as Emotions and transferred to Chumships (Toddler friendships, if you will). During preadolescence and teens, formal operations allows us to re-reinterpret Sensory and Emotional feelings Intellectually. That is, we can think about what makes a good friend or a sweetie-pie.

    In late adolescence, we begin and maintain friendships through Intellect first, then slowly move towards Emotions as we move through adolescence. Finally, in late adolescence, we allow our Senses to experience being cuddled, nurtured, fed, kept comfortable again - not by Mom or Dad this time, but with our one true love sweetie-pie!

    If early attachments are not made for parent and child, the p/c bond is hindered, which makes chumship, friendship and love relationship much harder. Fathering studies show that Parents must adapt to the developing child.
    Failure to do so necessarily means conflict and trouble in the family.

 Parenting Techniques:
You've all seen Baumrind's typology of Parenting Styles.

Family & Child Developmental thinkers almost all agree that Authoritative Parenting is the best way to insure child development. The big news in terms of parenting adolescents is that unless parents have been practicing authoritative styles of discipline and control since the child's early years, authoritative parenting will probably not be possible with teenagers.

Punishments versus Discipline -Punishments typically used by Authoritarian Parents

    1. Traditional punishments (yelling, spanking, demeaning behaviors) arouse anger and fears in all of us. Adolescents are particular targets for soliciting these behaviors.
    2. Power assertions - regaining control via removal of privileges, striking adolescents, invoking status inequities.
    3. Love withdrawal - I don't love you when you behave like this.

    Essentially no punishments are necessary with Authoritative parenting.
    Instead - Inductive forms of control are more effective and positive. They also takes more time to accomplish inductive forms - but increases the quality of the parent/adolescent relationship. Inductive controls put the responsibility for good behavior (and the positive consequences that follow) on the teenager!
    • "Let's talk about smoking for a moment - Why do you think teenagers start smoking?""How do you think this room could be kept a little cleaner?.
    Limits must be placed on adolescent behaviors - In fact teenagers seek out the limits of their parents - they want limits. Limits allow a measure of rebellion (as kids move out of the parental sphere of influence to assert their autonomy.
Social class differences in parenting: Working class - traditional, corporal punishment, emphasis on material resources, living closer to the buck.
Middle class - more androgynous and democratic. These people can afford an emphasis on ideals and symbols, deferred gratification, self-direction, personal growth. Before we go blaming the lower & working class for producing bad kids - why is it the case that do poor kids seem to get in more trouble than rich kids? Maybe they are simply more visible and have fewer resources to use when they do get into trouble. Chambliss' study entitled "Saints and Roughnecks" makes this point. Here middle class teenagers (saints) actually committed many more infractions than did the evil working class and poor kids (roughnecks). However, the roughnecks were many times more likely to be looked at suspiciously and processed through the juvenile corrections system.

Parent Adolescent Conflict - Everyday conflict is commonplace, but is it necessary?  It is - normal and healthy when moderately experienced? High levels of conflict, however, has to do in part with parent's inability to compromise and empathize with the teen's angst. Most parent/adolescent conflict is over superficial issues - over teen's need to establish a bit of independence and his need to "fit" in with his peers. Conflict is usually over normal everyday events - school work, peers, minor disobedience, length of hair, clothing styles, language. Just as is true of the developmental task, the discomfort that comes from interpersonal conflict can have very positive "relationship growth" potential between parent and child. Often parents are not willing to accept their role as a cause of adolescent self-destructive behaviors. It is theorized that severe parent/adolescent conflicts can be traced to conditions prior to adolescence. Adolescence is simply the first opportunity that children have to assert their dissatisfaction with the way things have been going.

    Strategies for Reducing Parent Adolescent Conflict:

      1. Establish ground rules for conflict resolution:
      2. Try to reach a mutual understanding
      3. Try Brainstorming
      4. Try to come to an agreement about one or more solutions
      5. Write down and sign agreements
      6. Establish a time for a follow-up conversation to examine progress.
Autonomy in adolescence - individual movement toward adult status, making one's own decisions and living with the consequences, emotional detachment, financial semi-independence, disengagement from parents, school affiliations, and so on.

Ausubel's theory of adolescent autonomy:

  • Satellization - beginning in childhood, the adolescent may overcome conflict by giving up her sense of self-power and the perception that anything is possible. The result is normal dependence - unconditional love and trust.
  • Desatellization - breaking away from parents, which is normal, healthy - the adolescent will view successes and failures as part of life, a learning experience.
  • Resatellization - adolescent may seek out and find replacements for parents - reconstruct facsimiles of old family relationships - hippie communes, new crowds at school.
Blos called the process of autonomy INDIVIDUATION differentiating oneself from parents. The importance of family life among a sample of parents with teenagers:
  • 69% felt that close contact with parents and siblings is important - secure attachment from infancy leads to higher self esteem.
  • 87% felt having 1 meal a day together is important.
  • 54% would have the same number of children again.
  • 46% on one survey said the wouldn't marry the same person again if they could do it over).
- next Peers and Romantic Relationships