Why you and your teenager fight a lot

What changes in adolescence

Adolescence is a period when the growing individual must manage several transitions concurrently: biological, educational, and social roles. As adolescence progresses, they need to confront the looming stage of adulthood. Teenagers think a lot about about careers and career selection. Furthermore, their conduct of adolescents within the social community is in the spotlight.  It is a period for the teenager to gain important life skills through experiences that support development.

Adolescence is also accompanied by cognitive changes. Children begin to look,  and also to think,  like adults. These mental changes disturb the equilibrium that had been established between parent and child during middle childhood. Adolescents bring a new way of thinking to family discussions, decisions, and arguments. They challenge the status quo. Additionally, teens may demand to be treated more like adults with a greater say in family decisions. Parents should make gradual increases in decision-making opportunities for the adolescent.  

Social convention or personal choice?

More than decision making, teenagers will start seeing social conventions and moral standards in a more relativistic way. They realise that social conventions and standards are subjective . This may lead to a period of conflict. Subsequently, teens will question absolutes and rules, creating a backdrop for much of the bickering and squabbling over mundane issues that is often seen in families with adolescents. The dispute is often more about the   definition of the issue (that is, as a matter of custom versus a matter of personal choice) than it is about the specific details. In fact, it is a struggle over who has the authority-and into whose “jurisdiction” the issue falls. So, the adolescent has become someone who understands that some issues are matters of personal choice, rather than social convention.

Parents are distraught because they feel like their adolescent is rejecting their own values and judgement as a parent. This raises the issue of parental self-efficacy: how confident parents feel about themselves and their parenting. Mercifully, as adolescents grow older, and as they come to see the value in many social conventions, they resolve the conflict . Parents come to respect the authority and jurisdiction of their maturing child.

What parents can do

  1. Mentally accept that your child is growing up, and that part of that growing up is challenging the status quo.
  2. Demonstrate to your child that you acknowledge they are growing up by giving them new responsibilities together with new freedoms.
  3. Show your child that you are still there to answer questions and help clarify things even if they prefer to hang out with their friends: be present, they still need you.
  4. Welcome your child’s friends – they are a core part of your teenager’s life.
  5. Provide structure:      

Before an event/activity: Provide clear guidelines; settings limits of acceptable behaviour; specifying consequences of deviation and helping to set goals if appropriate.

During an event/activity: Parents can monitor progress and signal deviations; They can help in an appropriate way when the teens ask for help; they can also give ongoing informational feedback

After an event/activity: Give informational feedback on efforts and strategies; ask the teen to self-reflect and review how they handled the event/activity.

  • Provide an emotional environment that  facilitates open communication and provide emotional coaching by expressing your own emotions and allowing the teenager to express his or hers as well.
  • Model the behaviour you want from your teenager: mutual respect, empathy, taking responsibility for agreed actions, listening, keeping your word, etc.
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Bandura, A. (1997). The anatomy of stages of change, American journal of health promotion: AJHP, 12(1),    8-10.

Soenens, Deci, & Vansteenkiste, (2017): How Parents Contribute to Children’s Psychological Health: The Critical Role of Psychological Need Support

Wasike-Sihanya, J. (2022): Parents Coaching Skills and its Influence on Social Behaviour among School   Children. Doctoral research proposal submitted to UNICAF University. Nairobi: unpublished.