We Know Some Things: Parent–Adolescent Relationships in Retrospect and Prospect

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Abstract

This article examines the most important ideas to have emerged from the last 25 years of research on adolescent development in the family context and suggests some directions for the future. Two major sets of questions organize the review. First, how can we best characterize normative family relationships during adolescence, and, more specifically, is adolescence a time of parent Ð child conflict? Second, how do variations in parent – child relationships affect the developing adolescent? The answer to the first question depends on what is meant by conflict and, more importantly, from whom one gathers data. There is a need for a new perspective on the family, one that emphasizes the different viewpoints and stakes that parents and adolescents bring to their relationship with each other. Special attention should be paid to studies of the mental health of parents of adolescents. With regard to the second question, it is argued that there is enough evidence to conclude that adolescents benefit from having parents who are authoritative: warm, firm, and accepting of their needs for psychological autonomy. Therefore, it would seem most beneficial to institute a systematic, large-scale, multifaceted, and ongoing public health campaign to educate parents about adolescence, one that draws on the collective resources and expertise of health-care professionals, scientists, governmental agencies, community organizations, schools, religious institutions, and the mass media.

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