In a seminal theory, Hall (1904/1916; Arnett, 1999) suggests that adolescence is a time of ‘storm and stress.’ In particular, he emphasizes adolescents’ attempts to adjust to the many changes that they are experiencing as they reach adulthood and how these changes may result in conflict with members of the previous generation (e.g., parents). Certainly, today, adolescence is still viewed as a time of great change, with individuals experiencing significant changes in their physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development as they move from childhood to adulthood (e.g., Paplia, Olds, & Feldman, 2009). Nonetheless, ‘storm and stress’ may not describe the relationships of most adolescents and their parents. In fact, recent research suggests that only ten percent of families who are raising adolescents experience interactions marked by extreme, escalating conflict (Holmbeck, 1996) that would be clinically concerning to mental health professionals. Thus, although there are myriad changes that occur during adolescence, extreme conflict appears to be more of the exception than the norm.
Even though extreme conflict is not as common as was once thought, it is not uncommon for adolescents and their parents to have mutual disagreements and for these disagreements to be a normal, adaptive part of family interactions (e.g., Holmbeck & Hill, 1991). When such disagreements occur between adolescents and their parents, they tend to be about mundane, everyday family matters (Montemayor, 1983; Renk, Liljequist, Simpson, & Phares, 2005). For example, adolescent sons and daughters frequently report having disagreements with their mothers and fathers over household rules and separation-individuation issues. Further, adolescent sons (relative to adolescent daughters) tend to experience conflict with their mothers and fathers more frequently regarding their own behavior problems. Mothers and fathers also may have their own ideas regarding typical topics of disagreement in their interactions with their adolescents. For example, mothers frequently report disagreements with their adolescent sons over household rules and school-related issues, whereas mothers frequently report disagreements with their adolescent daughters over household rules and intrafamilial relationships. In contrast, fathers frequently report disagreements with both their adolescent sons and daughters over household rules and intrafamilial relationships (Renk et al., 2005). Such findings suggest that there are similarities and differences between adolescent sons and daughters in their disagreements with their mothers and fathers.
So, if some minor conflict over mundane issues is commonplace between adolescents and their parents, should parents still be concerned? Absolutely! Although minor conflict may be commonplace, conflict can still be related to declines in adolescents’ self-esteem and in family cohesiveness (Demo, 1991). As a result, it is important for parents to foster communication with their adolescents and to allow conflicts or disagreements to occur in a protected and productive environment. Such characteristics would be especially helpful when parent-adolescent conflict occurs for a good reason. For example, parents who have adolescents with oppositional behaviors are less likely to monitor their adolescents’ activities outside of the home (Patterson, 1982). In contrast, some parents may increase their monitoring and subsequently increase conflicts with their adolescents over household rules and separation-individuation issues (as described above) because they hope to promote more positive outcomes for their adolescents.
As a result, it may be vitally important for both adolescents and their parents to learn proper problem solving and communication skills that can be used while negotiating their conflicts or disagreements (Barkley, Edwards, & Robin, 1999). For adolescents and their mothers and fathers to accomplish successful negotiation, many skills are important. These skills may include parents gradually granting their adolescents an appropriate level of autonomy, both parents and adolescents being able to distinguish negotiable from non-negotiable issues, parents allowing adolescents to be involved in problem solving, both parents and adolescents maintaining positive communication and realistic expectations, and both parents and adolescents respecting the hierarchical arrangement of the family (Barkley et al., 1999). By embracing such skills, adolescents and their mothers and fathers can work through and resolve their conflicts, thereby promoting more successful outcomes for everyone in the family.
Arnett, J. J. (1999). Adolescent storm and stress, reconsidered. American Psychologist, 54, 317-326.
Barkley, R. A., Edwards, G. H., & Robin, A. L. (1999). Defiant teens: A clinician’s manual for assessment and family intervention. New York: The Guilford Press.
Demo, D. H. (1991). A sociological perspective on parent-adolescent disagreements. New Directions for Child Development, 51, 111-118.
Hall, G. S. (1904/1916). Adolescence. New York: Appleton.
Holmbeck, G. N. (1996). A model of family relational transformations during the transition to adolescence: Parent-adolescent conflict and adaptation. In J. A. Graber & J. Brooks-Gunn (Eds.), Transitions through adolescence: Interpersonal domains and context (pp. 167-199). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Holmbeck, G. N., & Hill, J. P. (1991). Discrepancies between perceptions of decision-making and behavioral autonomy. In R. L. Paikoff (Ed.), Shared views in the family during adolescence: New directions for child development (No. 51, pp. 51-69). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Montemayor, R. (1983). Parents and adolescents in conflict: All families some of the time and some families most of the time. Journal of Early Adolescence, 3, 83-103.
Papalia, D. E., Olds, S. W., & Feldman, R. D. (2009). Child development. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia.
Renk, K., Liljequist, L., Simpson, J., & Phares, V. (2005). Gender and age differences in the topics of parent-adolescent conflict. The Family Journal, 13, 139-149.