As children transition from elementary school to middle school, they encounter many new challenges. Social networks expand with the introduction of new peers. Pressure to fit in and be accepted through attitudes and behaviors becomes paramount to many young adolescents. And relationships with parents change from those of dependence to those of striving for independence. How parents interact with their adolescents during this critical period of development can have a significant impact on how their children adjust. In a recent study, Francois Poulin of the University of Quebec in Montreal evaluated how three measures of parent-child interaction affected adolescent adjustment.
Poulin recruited 93 adolescents and their parents and recorded them while they discussed an issue that was significant to the adolescent. The interactions were evaluated for levels of adolescent disclosure, the amount of advice given by the parents, and the intrusiveness of the parents. Poulin measured social adjustment and behavior in the adolescents by gathering self-reports and teacher reports one year later. The findings revealed that adolescents who were more open with their parents, and had parents who gave advice without being intrusive, had positive adjustment one year later. Specifically, children whose parents were forthcoming, but not intrusive, with advice exhibited less aggression and broader social networks than those whose parents were intrusive. These same adolescents were described as having more friends, less anger, and better social behaviors than those with intrusive parents.
These results suggest that during a time when children are searching for independence and identity, being able to confide in parents is essential. Also, children who are offered support and given guidance, rather than explicit direction, are better able to make their own pro-social decisions. “When parental feedback is aimed at promoting young adolescents’ autonomy, the impact of their feedback is likely to be positive,” Poulin said. In sum, parents who offer availability without intrusiveness may be giving their children the most beneficial gift of all—the gift of empowerment. Although this study did not separate the impact of fathers’ advice patterns from mothers’ advice patterns, it demonstrates the important role that parents play and how their communication behaviors impact the social development of their children during adolescence.
Poulin, Francois, Karine Nadeau, and Laura V. Scaramella. The role of parents in young adolescents’ competence with peers: An observational study of advice giving and intrusiveness. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 58.4 (2012): 437-62. Print.
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