The stereotype that teenagers spend all their time holed up in their rooms or hanging out with friends is, indeed, just a stereotype. Research shows that well into the adolescent years, teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time, especially shared time with fathers, has important implications for adolescents’ psychological and social adjustment.
Adolescence is a period of development that includes many biological, cognitive, emotional, and social changes that can lead to certain adjustment issues, with weight concerns, low self-esteem, and symptoms of depression being some of the most common, especially for girls.
Three studies conducted by researchers at Penn State University demonstrate how important a close and supportive relationship with your kids benefits them.
Shared time is still important for teens’ well-being
Researchers at Penn State University studied whether the stereotype of teens growing apart from their parents and spending less time with them captured the everyday experiences of families by examining changes in the amount of time youths spent with their parents from early to late adolescence.
According to youths’ reports of their daily time, although parent-teen time when others were also present declined from the early to late teen years, parent-teen time with just the parent and the teen present increased in early and middle adolescence—a finding that contradicts the stereotype of teens growing apart from their parents.
The researchers also found that the decline in the time teens spent with parents and others was less pronounced for second-born than for first-born siblings. They also found that both mothers and fathers spent more time alone with a child of their same gender when they had both a daughter and a son.
This suggests that, while adolescents become more independent, they continue to have one-on-one opportunities to maintain close relationships with their parents.
The role of fathers
Other researchers at Penn State examined how “parental intimacy” in families with mothers and fathers affected the children’s self-esteem, weight concerns, and depressive symptoms at different points across adolescence.
They found that closeness with fathers had broad, positive effects across adolescence for both daughters and sons. But while close relationships with mothers also had benefits, they were more limited by their children’s age, and weren’t protective against all the adjustment issues measured in the study for both girls and boys.
The findings suggest that while close relationships with moms are certainly important, fathers may play an important, distinct role in fostering healthy adjustment in adolescents. Adolescents tend to feel emotionally closer to their mothers than to their fathers and mothers tend to have supportive conversations with their children more frequently than fathers do. This may make emotional closeness with fathers more salient and, in turn, protective against these common adjustment problems experienced during adolescence.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found several different effects of parental intimacy on their sons and daughters at different times throughout adolescence. These effects were also different between mothers and fathers. For example, while father-adolescent intimacy was associated with fewer depressive symptoms across adolescence, mother-adolescent intimacy was associated with fewer depressive symptoms during mid-adolescence, around age 15.
They also found that father-youth intimacy was associated with fewer weight concerns for both girls and boys throughout most of adolescence, with the greatest effects in mid-adolescence for girls and late adolescence for boys. In contrast, mother-youth intimacy was only associated with fewer weight concerns for boys, and only in early adolescence.
Additionally, father-youth intimacy was associated with higher self-esteem from early through mid-adolescence for both boys and girls. Mother-youth intimacy was associated with higher self-esteem across most of adolescence for girls, and during early and late adolescence for boys.
Furthermore, teens who spent more time with their fathers with others present had better social skills with peers.
Family relationships have a long term impact on romantic relationships
Researchers found that when adolescents reported a positive family climate and their parents used more effective parenting strategies—like providing reasons for decisions and refraining from harsh punishments—those adolescents tended to go on to have better relationship problem-solving skills and less-violent romantic relationships as young adults.
During adolescence, your teens are starting to figure out what they want in a relationship and to form the skills they need to have successful relationships. The family relationship is the first intimate relationship of their life, and they apply what they learn to later relationships. It’s also where they may learn how to constructively communicate—or perhaps the inverse, to yell and scream—when they have a disagreement. These are the skills they learn from you and will apply in later relationships.
The ability to form close relationships is an important skill for adolescents and young adults to learn. Previous research has found that when young adults know how to form and maintain healthy relationships, they tend to go on to be more satisfied with their lives and be better parents.
The researchers found that a positive family climate and effective parenting in adolescence were associated with better problem-solving skills in young adults’ romantic relationships. Additionally, kids who had more positive engagement with their parents during adolescence reported feeling more love and connection in their young adult relationships.
The researchers also found that a more cohesive and organized family climate and more effective parenting during adolescence was associated with a lower risk of violence in young adult relationships.
Adolescents from families that are less cohesive and more conflictual may be less likely to learn positive-problem solving strategies or engage in family interaction affectionately. So in their romantic relationships, they are also less likely to be affectionate and more likely to use destructive strategies when they encounter problems, like violence.
On the other hand, the study found that kids who were more assertive had better problem-solving skills in their later relationships.
Parents can promote their adolescents’ healthy development by fostering emotionally warm, accepting, and supportive relationships with them.
This article is derived from “Hanging out with parents boosts self-esteem” (Penn State), Relationship with dad may ease some teen troubles” (Penn State), “You’re teaching your kids these relationship lessons” (Penn State) and is used under CC BY 4.0.