Teens put parents' needs before their own

Although teenagers are often perceived as being selfish, researchers were suprized by the findings of their research investigating teens’ responses to parental requests. Parents indicated that it was acceptable for teens to ignore parental requests for help in low-need situations. The teenagers emphasized the importance of helping parents over their own desires, even in low-need situations.

This study had me thinking – how do parents maintain relationships with teenage children as they become increasingly independent? I think there are a couple of important things to keep in mind. On the show we’ve talked a lot about communication, which is sometimes difficult between parents and adolescents. Providing opportunities for families to gather and talk is important; on an early episode of The Family Anatomy Podcast we talked about the positive impact of having family dinners. I think it’s worth thinking about when we communicate with our kids. Do interactions happen mostly when there’s a problem? Do many of your conversations concern chores and responsibilities? If your relationship is a bank account, these discussions can be thought of as withdrawals, and it doesn’t take long before the account is overdrawn! Parents who are able to arrange shared time to talk about other things are more likely to maintain an open dialog. Family dinners or family game nights can present such opportunities, but lots of people have also told me that they have their best conversations with their kids while driving in the car.

“Emotional intelligence” and coping skills for dealing with stress are still developing for adolescents; they may have strong reactions to life events that would seem minor to an adult. Minimizing the importance of life stressors, giving advice, or denying the validity of the feelings can close the door on communication. In their book, How to Talk so Teens Will Listen and Listen so Teens Will Talk, Faber and Mazlish emphasize the importance of empathic communication with teens; acknowledging feelings and allowing them to talk through their problems (instead of giving advice or minimizing) can lead not only to improved communication with your kids, but to improvements in their social problem-solving skills.

A major challenge of adolescence is the increasing independence that comes with age. This is sometimes as much (or more) of a challenge for the parents. How can you know when or how much you can leave your child to handle independently? This is an important question to ask, in order to provide a clear answer for yourself and your teen. How can they demonstrate to you that a later curfew is OK? Think about the things that you need to see in order to feel comfortable with a change in rules or routines, and talk about those things with your child. Leaving your expectations or concerns unclear makes the development of independence more difficult for everyone in the family, as they leave room for differing interpretations and conflict.

What have you found helpful in maintaining a positive relationship with your teen? Leave us a comment!

You can read more about the teens’/parents’ needs study here.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.

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