October 24, 2022

Q&A with Dr. Kalee Gross: The Parent-Adolescent Relationship [PART 3 of 5]

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We sat down with one of UCEBT's parent-child relationship specialists, Dr. Kalee Gross, to ask about the parent-adolescent relationship. What's it all about? Why is it important? How can it be improved? Read along in the third part of this five part series to see what Dr. Gross says about the latest research on the parent-adolescent relationship.

Looking at the research, not the stereotype 

Research has shown that even though there are some changes in this interaction and how that relationship is organized, the individual's perception of the quality of the relationship tends to remain stable.  

So, a teen's relationship with their parents tends to be fairly the same throughout adolescence. And I know this tends to be seen as a stereotypical storm in stress period, but research hasn't really supported that anymore. There's a research study that was done that showed that only 14% of early adolescents around age 12 reported turbulent relationships with their parents, and that was characterized by high conflict, low supportiveness. And then that number increased to 29% around middle adolescence. And then by late adolescence, it decreased to 10%. And so, that 10%-29%, that's the minority and it's not the majority. Most of these relationships tend to remain fairly stable.  

Parenting practices 

Some other factors to consider when thinking about improving the relationship are parenting practices. Parenting practices includes parental awareness, parental monitoring, parental supportiveness, and strictness.  

Parental awareness is the parent's awareness of the child's needs and their emotions, but also their awareness of their own emotions. So, when parents have a higher awareness, it tends to predict healthier, psychosocial and psychological adjustment for their teenagers; it also is related to lower internalizing and externalizing problems for those teens.  

Parental monitoring refers to the expectations that the parents hold for their teen and how they track to see if the teen is meeting those expectations. Research has shown that if there is low parental monitoring during this time, it's related to more antisocial behavior, substance use, and various delinquent behaviors.  

Higher levels of parental supportiveness are related to reduced levels of depression, less psychological disorders, less externalizing behaviors, and overall less behavior problems among youth.  

Strictness is a little different because it's not that high-levels are good and low-levels are bad... it's more that low- and high- levels of strictness tend to predict higher levels of problem behavior. So we want to find a moderate level of strictness. When there is a moderate level of strictness within the relationship, it tends to be a protective factor for adolescents.  

Parenting stress 

In general, parenting during adolescence tends to be more stressful for parents because of several changes that are occurring during this time. One of those changes is that there there's a tendency for adolescents to want to spend more time with their friends and their peers. Sometimes parents can view that as more of a threat to that parent-adolescent relationship. So that can create some stress and conflict.  

Also, the assertion of autonomy in those family interactions and that heightened emotional arousal or emotional lability can create more stress for the parent.  

Further, when parents are under high stress in their own lives, it tends to be associated with poor child and adolescent adjustment. It's also associated with an increased risk in child psychopathology, substance use risk behaviors. It's also related to more maladaptive parenting behaviors. Some of those parenting behaviors include lower level of warmth in the relationship or more harsh or negative parenting, maybe resulting in using more criticism or yelling or having stricter rules. It can also lead to a diminished parent-adolescent bonding.  

Another piece to note, too, is that when parents are under high stress, it tends to change their perceptions of their child's behavior. So something that might typically be seen as a normative behavior, the parent could associate with more of a problematic behavior, or even viewing it as more of an attack. And this can lead to more conflict within the relationship and a decrease in the parent-adolescent bonding.  

Mindfulness and parenting 

So an important piece to look at is how can we decrease the stress of the parent. One study that was done, looked at using mindfulness-based interventions. In this study, researchers compared mindfulness-based interventions to psychoeducation group therapy; they found that in the mindfulness-based intervention group, over time the parents had a decrease in their distress and overreaction to events. It also showed that they had an increased ability to respond to events in ways that they chose rather than automatically acting on those emotions that come up.  

So instead of automatically acting on the anger, being able to notice the anger and then choose how they want to handle that situation; then, there's also an increase in the positive parenting behaviors and increase in that closeness and bonding in the parent-adolescent relationship. So for parents, it can be really helpful to consider adding in some mindfulness-based practices for you.  

Our therapists here at UCEBT are really, really well trained and knowledgeable in mindfulness and can help any parent with gaining those skills. But, in addition, there are a lot of apps out there that people can look at to start building on that mindfulness piece and gain a lot more information about mindfulness. 

There tends to be this misperception of mindfulness that mindfulness means meditation, but they aren't the same thing as each other. They can overlap with each other, but they aren't the same thing. Mindfulness is more about being able to be in the present moment, noticing what's going on with all of your five senses and just trying to be in that moment, non-judgmentally.  

Check out part 4 of 5 on the parent-adolescent relationship.