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What Causes Parents & Teens to Butt Heads?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


Adolescence is a time of change, a transitional period in human development during which an

individual gradually moves from childhood to adulthood. Beginning in puberty, children undergo many physical, psychological and social changes that help them mature. During this process of growing up, their bodies, minds and relationships stretch in many new directions. As a result, their world – and that of those around them – seems to be upside down.

Adolescence is often a time of hurt feelings for parents and kids. Teens struggle to free

themselves from the control of their parents who, in turn, fight just as hard to keep control.

Because this struggle may reveal a side to kids that parents did not suspect, parents often feel a sense of shock and betrayal. Beginning in puberty, kids become more outspoken in their views, more critical of parents’ values and more demanding of control over their lives.

There is a wide range for conflict to occur between adolescents and parents. Some teen/parent conflicts are frequent and intense, while others are considerably less so. Parents can influence the frequency and intensity of these conflicts by understanding their own role in the process and by recognizing that: “This, too, shall pass.”

Control – Teens want more control over their lives. Parents often perceive this as rebellion.

Parents can smooth some of the resulting conflicts by giving teens control in some areas, such as dress and hairstyle, while keeping control in other areas, such as bedtime and curfew.

Compromise can be a solution in matters related to control.

Rebellion – Teens often react to control by rebelling. Frequently, these acts of rebellion are

over-reactions that prompt further control battles. Parents should learn to demonstrate self-

control because: 1) teens tend to copy the behaviors of their parents, and 2) someone needs to

remain calm so that the issue can be resolved satisfactorily.

Values – The need for teens to control their own lives includes the need to create their own

values. Parents sometimes focus on what they believe are the differences between their values

and those of teens. By talking respectfully with their teens and carefully listening to their

response, parents are often pleasantly surprised to learn that their differences in values are not so far apart.

Conformity – While rebelling against some of their parents’ rules, teens are often fanatical in

conforming to their own. This is especially true of minor issues such as hair and clothing styles.

Because of the peer pressure to conform and the personal desire to be a member of the group,

teens usually do not want to look different from other members of their clique.

Criticism – Teens may be more interested in dishing it out than they are in taking it. Parents

would do well to calmly point out this fact to their teenagers. Additionally, parents should

remember that their teen’s self-esteem is especially vulnerable during this stage of development

and that there is an important difference between “constructive” and “destructive” criticism.

Contradictions – Parents are often confused when their teen demands to adult treatment but

behaves like a child. During the transition from childhood to adulthood, teens often alternate

between what they were and what they are becoming. A guide for parents is to treat teens like

children when they act child-like and as adults when their behavior is adult-like.

Person Responsibility – Parents may hold teens to adult standards of responsibility. Teens,

however, may feel entitled to more leeway. In the use of vehicles, for example, teens may feel

unjustly criticized if their parents restrict car privileges for getting a speeding ticket. Teens often

take the viewpoint that their faults and misbehaviors deserve overlooking.

Family Ties – The teen’s main job during adolescence is to achieve independence from the

family. With this in mind, parents may feel less “betrayed” when their teenager puts friends

ahead of family.

Privacy & Secrecy – Because teens spend a lot of time alone in their room or no longer confide in their parents does not necessarily mean something is wrong. Rather, the need for privacy and the tendency to keep their important personal information to themselves is typical of teens that are in the process of learning how to exist apart from the family.

School Performance – While adults measure school performance largely on grades, teens may use other yardsticks such as popularity and athletic ability.

Money – Disagreements about money often reflects differences of opinion in tastes and values.

For example, the teen’s taste in clothing and personal adornments may differ greatly from that of his or her parents. Likewise, parents may value saving for the future while the teen may think

that the purpose of money is to meet more immediate needs such as buying clothes, attending

social events or purchasing a car.

Clothing & Hairstyles – The relative importance of this issue is the reason why it is last. Parents have a right to insist on basic house rules and forms of behavior. However, they should also remember that every generation, including their own, tries to set itself apart by hair and clothing styles.*

*Adapted from our book, Adolescence: A Time of Change

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