I ALWAYS love my child, but sometimes I don’t like her. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. And, if you were alone, in a sound proof room, with no one around for miles, and were completely and totally honest with yourself, I think you would say that you sometimes feel this way too. Why? Because of this little thing that’s called Parent-Adolescent Conflict. We know it happens. It happens to most of us and it happens pretty frequently, whether we want to admit it or not… but what is all the fuss about? WHAT do parents and teens argue about??
When it comes to content, disputes between parents and teens aren’t typically over huge, significant, life-changing issues like educational or occupational goals, moral values, etc. Conflict between parents and teens is usually over everyday, mundane issues such as homework, chores, getting along with siblings and choice of friends, music, and clothing. These are the times that you say things like “Didn’t I ask you to pick up those dirty socks off the living room floor nine times already?!?” Or “You’re wearing that itty-bitty, microscopic skirt to school? …I don’t think so. Get back in there and change into something decent, young lady!” Most teens would then come back with a multitude of rapid-fire responses, all of course, dripping with a sarcastic, snarky, or condescending attitude. Interestingly, researchers have noted that in the context of parent-teen conflict, parents tend to focus on the social expectations and norms, whereas teens tend to see the issue over which they are arguing as a personal statement. For example, the mother of a 15-year old girl who just got matching green Mohawks with her best friend may say “Good Lord! What are the neighbors are going to think? …that I’ve raised a completely insane, green-haired hooligan!” or “Your room is such a pigsty! …now, go in and clean that room before your grandmother comes over and thinks that I’ve raised you in a barn!” Conversely, teen’s responses would go something like this: “This is MY hair, MY body, and MY room…and I should be able to color my hair green or poke holes in various body parts – Hello…I AM making a statement here! Screw what the neighbors think!
The good news is that somehow we learn to manage conflict with our teens as they reach middle-adolescence and begin to feel a bit more like we’re in a semi-amicable relationship with another human being once they reach older adolescence. This is just about the same time that our teen begins to realize that our IQ has risen and her mother isn’t as big of an idiot as she used to be! In my Adolescent Psychology class, I always ask my students why they think conflict between parents and their teens decreases after 18 years of age. Any guesses? The first response I inevitably hear is: “they move out of the house”, which is, in part, very true. As teens hit older adolescence, they broaden their social and circumstantial horizons by either going off to college, moving out, getting jobs, etc., which all serves to provide more space, both physical and otherwise, for all to gain a little perspective. In this case, at least, it is true what they say about the heart growing fonder with a little absence – or at least a little less in-your-face bickering. What also happens in late adolescence is that your child is not only gaining perspective, she is becoming significantly more mature – not just physically, but cognitively, socially, and emotionally as well. It’s as though her brain and heart finally catch up to her body. Now these well-rounded, mature children of ours begin to actually appreciate us as human beings, and as individuals. They not only have this new-found appreciation for how you manage to do a great job at work, kick butt at being a good mom, and perform all things with Super Human strength; they also begin to look back and realize that they were a royal pain in your rear end during their early teen years. So many of my students, after learning about parent-adolescent conflict and parents’ perspectives, say that they are going straight to the florist to send their mother flowers! In the event that you randomly get a beautiful bouquet accompanied by a sweet note of appreciation from your older child…you are welcome.