In order to gain a better understanding
of these parent-teen dynamics, Larson conducted a series of studies.
They required a group of teens and parents to carry a device that
beeped at random times throughout their waking hours. When it
beeped, they wrote in a journal about the activity they were doing
at the time and rated on a happiness scale how they were feeling.
"Across the thousands of times
adolescents recorded their feelings, they reported many more extreme
emotional states than their parents did," says Larson. "They
reported many more euphoric highs than their parents; in fact, they
felt 'very happy' five times more often and 'very unhappy' three
times more often."
Even though parents cannot do much to
change that emotionally volatile state, understanding, recognizing
and even expecting emotional mood swings, especially in the early
adolescent years, is one way parents can cope, says Larson. "It also
should be reassuring that this time in their life is short-lived."
When teens get into the high school
years, Larson says that they often settle down emotionally. "Parents
actually say that they enjoy their kids more, since they are getting
old enough to be able to have more meaningful conversations."
The teens in Larson's study who were
inundated by the most transitions and stressful life events were
most likely to be "moody adolescents," who experience more negative
Some transitions are unexpected or
unavoidable, but Larson recommends that if parents have control over
a major change, they should postpone it until after the teen years.
"If a move to a new home or city or a change in the household --
like an aging grandparent moving into the home -- can wait, things
will probably be easier."
Teens need to know that when they come
home, they can unwind, relax and feel accepted. Although most of the
teens in Larson's study reported that when they were at home they
felt more important, more calm, less nervous, embarrassed and
frustrated than they did in other settings, many teens viewed
parents as annoying and demanding.
"If the home is a place that's filled
with hassles, it will only make living in the same house more
stressful for everyone," Larson says. As the teen gets older, there
is often a renegotiation of family rules and relationships. The high
schooler, for example, may be granted new freedoms, later curfews
and access to a car. These can ease conflicts but also lead to the
teen spending less time at home with the family.
[to top of second column in
One of Larson's studies showed a steady
and dramatic drop in time spent with the family: from 35 percent of
waking hours in fifth grade to 14 percent in 12th grade. Teens spend
more and more time alone and with their peers. They retreat to their
bedroom immediately after school and dinner. Recognizing this need
and allowing teens the time they need to be alone or with friends
can reduce parental stress.
Interestingly, although adolescents
spent less and less family time, the amount of time they spent
one-on-one with a parent did not decrease substantially. So,
although they may not want to play games or sit and watch a movie
with the whole family, teens will often talk more and enjoy time
with a parent in the car, shopping or going out for a meal.
Research has shown that there is an
increased rate of marital dissatisfaction among parents of
adolescents in two-parent households. This may be because of the
added stresses in the household, but Larson says it is also related
to the fact that parents may have immersed themselves in worrying
about their child's life for years and neglected their marriage.
Some parents may take the blame on
themselves when their kids make bad decisions. They get
over-involved with their teen's problems and find that they are not
taking care of themselves and their marriage. "The adults' mental
health may suffer," Larson says. "It's important to make sure
parents meet their own needs, and if their teen is having persistent
problems, they may want to see a pastor, priest or counselor to deal
with their own depression."
years can be particularly hard on single parents," Larson says.
"After all, they spent a lot of time with their child, and now
suddenly the teen prefers to be alone in their bedroom or with
friends their own age. So, it's a good time for parents to develop
their own friendships and interests in order to fill that void."
[University of Illinois news release]