A young person’s transition to adolescence is influenced by individual characteristics as well as contextual factors. These dynamics may affect the relationship between adolescents and their parents. During puberty, conflict often arises, as adolescents are experiencing hormonal and physical changes and are going through a developmental process of ongoing definition and redefinition of themselves. Typically, these conflicts are only mildly intense, though frequent and annoying, and focus on rule/regulation disagreements.
Family conflict is often experienced when:
- Less time is spent with parents or caregivers, as peer relationships take precedence
- Adolescents become emotionally distant and appear to disconnect from the family; they seem like they are in their own world
- Power struggles emerge, as adolescents seek to establish their own identity and experience a new found grandiosity that rebuffs parental guidance
o Power struggles can range from minor disagreements over food, music, and fashion tastes to bigger issues such as romantic relationships, future goals and ideals, roles and responsibilities
As hard as it is to believe, it is important for parents to recognize that their developing adolescents are not intentionally acting “crazy” or seeking fights but are going through a normal and necessary transition process. Their identity and sense of self are solidifying. Though parents are no longer idealized like they once were and needed to be to help the child feel safe and secure, this de-idealization is not a purposeful, direct insult or attack; it is a necessary, natural step in adolescents’ movement toward autonomy.
Conflict during pubertal development does not mean that the parent-child bond is ruptured. It serves as a manifestation of a young person’s psychological separation from the caregiver. Adolescents sense parental reactions and this influences their own responses to developmental changes. The key to successfully navigating this process is to maintain consistency, be patient and warm toward the adolescents, and give them the needed physical and psychological space to come into their own. Being open and honest about feelings provides a model for self insight and emotional regulation. Maintaining boundaries and structure, while giving adolescents more responsibility, helps strengthen trust and develop a sense of self efficacy. Adolescents respond better to their parents when they believe they are heard and understood and feel they have a say in the problem solving process. Adolescents do not need to and should not always get their way, but if their feelings and perspective are acknowledged (they receive empathy), they are more tolerant of disappointment.
Providing this kind of support for young people will reinforce the affective bond between the children and parents and serve to strengthen adolescents’ exploration of the self.
Post by Asya Brodsky, LSW