Warm parenting of teens can bring closer bond later

"Adolescents want to feel respected and treated like adults. It's important to have clear reasons for family rules and consequences," says Shichen Fang. (Credit: Getty Images)

High-quality parenting of adolescents lays the foundation for close parent-child relationships when those teens become young adults, according to new research.

The study is one of the first to examine how changes in parental involvement, parental warmth, and effective discipline during adolescence predict the quality of the relationships between parents and their young adult children, says Greg Fosco, professor of human development and family studies and associate director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State and co-principal investigator of the study.

The study’s findings appear in the journal Developmental Psychology. The research team surveyed 1,631 participants in a long-term research study of families in rural and semi-rural Pennsylvania and Iowa who completed surveys between sixth and 12th grades and again at age 22.

“Our research showed that parenting can change a lot during the teenage years: parents often express less warmth and affection, spend less time with their teens, and become more harsh in their discipline. Parents that were able to maintain positive parenting and involvement laid the foundation for a close relationship when their teens became adults,” says Fosco.

Staying involved in teens’ lives may look different than when they were younger, and it can be challenging to stay close with teens as they seek greater independence and autonomy, Fosco acknowledges. Based on the study’s findings, he suggests these activities:

  • Do something together, like playing sports, bike riding, exercising, going for a walk, gaming, cooking, attending events, or going out for a meal or dessert.
  • Work on a project together around the house.
  • Talk about what’s going on at school.
  • Discuss what you want to do in the future.

Further, adolescents who experienced higher levels of parental warmth in the early teen years reported feeling more closeness and warmth with mothers and fathers when they were in their 20s, Fosco says.

“This is a great reminder to say the important things in life, such as ‘I love you’ or ‘I care about you,’ or physical expressions such as a hug or a pat on the back,” he says.

The study also found that parents who were skilled at using effective discipline with their sixth grade children—and maintained these effective practices over the course of adolescence—had less conflict in their relationships when their children were in their 20s.

“Parents should avoid harsh consequences and yelling at their teens, and work to stay calm and consistent in upholding family rules,” says lead author Shichen Fang, postdoctoral fellow in the psychology department at Concordia University and former postdoctoral fellow at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.

“Adolescents want to feel respected and treated like adults. It’s important to have clear reasons for family rules and consequences.”

When appropriate, it’s helpful to include adolescents in decision-making about family rules, such as discussions to decide on a reasonable curfew, Fosco adds.

“When parents can include their teens in these decisions, they are more likely to go along with what is decided,” Fosco says.

The data for the study are from PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER). The study had funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. PROSPER also has funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and co-funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Source: Penn State