one or both parents. Conflicts usually start during the 12 to 16-year-old
period. Friends become more important than parents. Parent-teenager fights
range in intensity from quiet withdrawal to raging arguments on every issue.
Conflicts may begin with the teenager stopping doing certain things that
please their parents--or that would indicate closeness or similarity to the
parents, like going to church or to the movies with the parents. They want to
be on their own, to "do their own thing," which sometimes evolves into
having the responsibilities of a 5-year-old and the freedom of a 25-year-old.
Parental rules and values are often challenged or broken. This is called
"boundary breaking;" in moderation it is natural, normal, necessary, and
healthy. Depending on the peer group, the teenager may do some things
partly to "shake up" or defy the parents (and the establishment)--dress, talk,
dance, and "have fun" in their own way. Using drugs, reckless driving,
drinking, staying out late, getting "too serious," and other behaviors may be
for excitement but boundary breaking may be involved too. When the parents
object or refuse permission, the teenager may intensely resent their
interference (which is why the topic is covered in this chapter).
The parents may respond just as strongly to the teenager's new behavior.
When the agreeable kid starts to argue about everything, it is baffling to the
parents. Parents resent defiance, especially parents who are authoritarian, I-
make-the-rules-type. They may feel like a failure as a parent. The teenager's
ideas seem totally unreasonable to them. The parents' emotional reaction is
more than just reasonable concern for the teenager's welfare, it is an intense
reaction--either panic that the son or daughter is headed for disaster or
boiling resentment of the teenager's rebelliousness. When both respond with
strong resentment, it is war.
Why this war? In some families these quarrels may be necessary in order
for the young person to become "his/her own person" and free him/herself
from parents' control. Sonnett (1975), Robertiello (1976), Ginott (1969) and
many others have speculated about the underlying causes somewhat as
follows: Teenagers are unsure of themselves but they pretend to be
confident. They fear admitting their doubts because that might lead to being
taken over again--almost smothered--by their parents' opinions and control.
Yet, there are temptations to not grow up, to be taken care of, and to avoid
scary responsibilities. This danger--of remaining a weak, dependent,
controlled child--provides the intense force behind the drive to be different
from and to challenge the parents. Teenagers deny the importance of their
relationships with parents; they give up hugging and kissing; they show little
gratitude; they emphasize their differences from their parents and their
similarity to their friends. All attempts, in part, to get free.
Bickering, insulting, and getting mad push the parents away. Disliking
parents and not getting along with them makes it easier to leave. What do
the parents do? Some say, "I've taught you all I know, now go live life as you
choose and learn from your experiences. I'll always love you." Other parents
feel crushed and/or furious when teenagers decide to go a different direction.
These parents wanted their children to accomplish their goals and to conform
to their values and way of life. They perhaps hoped to live life, again, through
their children. At least, they wanted the son/daughter to follow their religion,