The wonder years - most teenagers and parents get along fine

The wonder years - most teenagers and parents get along fine

Media release — 8 May 2008

New research has found that seven out of 10 Australian teenagers report a positive relationship with their parents - challenging the common perception that the typical parent-teenage relationship is a difficult one.

However only about half of teenagers said that they talked often about their problems with their parents.   

According to the research, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, there is a very strong link between the wellbeing of teenagers and the quality of their relationship with their parents.

Institute Director Professor Alan Hayes said the research painted a positive picture and highlighted the critical role of effective, quality parenting.

'The research tells us that Australian teenagers and their parents do, by and large, get along well,' Prof Hayes said.
'However, difficult relationships with parents and teenagers do exist and these need to be taken seriously to avoid risk of teenagers experiencing social exclusion or limited life chances,' he said.

The research, How do Parents and Teenagers Get Along Together? Views of Young People and their Parents was undertaken by the Institute’s Diana Smart in collaboration with Ann Sanson and John Toumbourou, and appears in the latest edition of its Family Matters Publication (no 2008/78).

The research is based on a Seven Up-style study – the Australian Temperament Project -  which began in 1983 with a group of 2,443 children and parents. Two-thirds of the study’s sample group is still involved.

The latest research examined how parents and adolescents viewed their relationship, their level of agreement about their relationships, and other factors that were linked to the quality of their relationships.

Key findings of the research are:

  • Most parents and teenagers reported a positive relationship with each other.
  • Teenagers felt their relationships with parents improved from their early-to-mid adolescence years to later teenage years.
  • Only half the teenagers reported they communicated with their parents about their problems or difficulties. 
  • Where teenagers and parents reported a good relationship, teenagers had higher self-esteem and fewer problems at school.

'Overall most teenagers felt their parents respected them, understood them, accepted them and trusted their judgment,' researcher Diana Smart said.

'And this is consistent with the parents’ view of their relationship with their teenagers, with most believing they got on well with their teenager, enjoyed their company and praised or rewarded them for doing a good job.

'However only about half of teenagers said that they talked often about their problems with their parents.

'The research highlights a difference among both the parents’ and the teens’ view of their relationship at early adolescence, and at later adolescence.

'Parents of 13-14 year-olds were far more likely to talk to their teen daily about their plans for the coming day than were parents of 17-18 year-olds.

'However, parents were more likely to talk to their teenager about problems or troubles the teen was experiencing in late adolescence than early or mid adolescence.

'This indicates that parents are more involved in the daily life of younger teenagers, but as they move into older adolescence and develop independence, parental involvement is around the more serious concerns and problems of their teenagers.'

Ms Smart said the research also examined connections between teenage-parent relationships and others aspects of teenagers’ lives.

'Where teenagers and parents both reported a high quality relationship, the teenagers had better social skills, fewer behavioural problems, better peer relationships and fewer problems at school.

'They also had higher self esteem, an easier temperament style, greater identity clarity, and were more optimistic about their future.'

The study is part of the Australian Temperament Project, a longitudinal study of the developing child in Australia being undertaken by the Institute in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Family Matters, no. 78, 2008 - table of contents and abstracts

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