Parents Walk a Fine Line When Giving Advice to Adolescents

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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  • Trojan


    November 21st, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    Having parents who were extremely intrusive when I was in middle school kind of ended it for me. I ended up having almost dual roles, one for parents and another for everybody else. They wanted to choose my friends, my clothes, my music and everything. It was just too much.

    So I did what any youngster that age would-starte hiding things from them. This lead to me distancing from them gradually and now we hardly even have a functioning relationship. I never had a conflict with my parents but I would rather stay away from them and their prying eyes that made my growing up years feel like prison.

  • Joanna


    November 21st, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    Parents walking that fine line can be such an asset. I cannot begin to describe just how great my parents were in my growing up years. Never intrusive but always there to listen to a problem I had or something that bothered me.

    I think all parents must try to get the balance right an take the middle path because being too strict or too intrusive can have a negative impact on adolescents and it’s something I’m sure no parent wants for their child.

    Sometimes I think the reason parents behave that way is because they have a pre existing problem or notion in their mind and that manifests itself toward the adolescent children. That is not healthy whatsoever, for the child or the parent.

  • larissa


    November 22nd, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    there’s never going to be a ‘perfect parent’ or a ‘perfect adolescent’. what’s needed in fact is flexibility and a little bit of empathy from both the grow up and change along the way.but parents need to change too.they cannot apply the same rules to a ten year old and a sixteen year old.and the kids also need to realize that parents only want to assure their safety and betterment.this little understanding can go a long way in helping some prospective bumps along the way to a healthy parent-child relationship.

  • Finn


    November 22nd, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    Adolescent are neither little kids to monitor every little activity of their nor are they adults to let them independently handle situations. They are on a middle ground between the two stages and hence I believe that is the way parents should set the rules and handle things when it comes to adolescents – follow a middle ground, somewhere between complete monitoring and complete independence.

    It does not take a genius to figure out too much of nose poking into adolescents will have them fuming. And as responsible parents we should maintain that fine line. i think that is the essence of what they call being friends with your adolescent children.

  • Andi


    November 23rd, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    It’s so hard to know exactly how tightly to walk that line! I want to be friends with my daughters but I don’t want to be that nosy mom either. And I know that no matter what I say they are bound to do the opposite. Argh- who knew it would be this hard?!?

  • dalton gentry

    dalton gentry

    November 25th, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    I try really hard to only give advice overtly when it is specifically reqested.
    Now I might try to sneak some things in every now and then without them being aware that’s what I am doing, but I will only frame it as advice when it is solicited.
    So far that has worked pretty well for us.

  • Maureen


    November 28th, 2012 at 8:04 PM

    Being the mother to a 13y/o boy, I am constantly aware of how delicate and vital the conversations we have with adolescents are. I have always encouraged open conversations and my son. He is definately setting some boundaries which I believe is healthy. He wants to keep love interests private…but continues to ask question and give info to me about the culture of junior high. He is not afraid to discuss drugs, tries to get specics about my past which I tend to steer the conversation towards balance, using common sense, why maturity is important with sex and drugs…and we get into the risks vs desire kids have to try out/use substances, plus love relationships/sex. Poulins study provides valuable insight aroud how parents guide/listen…. teens are smart enough to know the difference between being respected and trusted vs. controlled. Natural consequences are part of growing up. To keep the conversation open, listening and exploring perspectives, rather than judging and advising seems key.

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