Why Parents Need as Much Help as Their Teens Do


Your teen might not be depressed or anxious or bipolar, she might be a regular teenager with good grades, confidence, and charm. Your teen might be considerate and kind with a clean appearance and good manners. Still, sometimes, teens create hell for their parents. Even though these aren’t the adolescents who are addicted to drugs, failing in school, or running away, you might be feeling like you’re the one who’s going crazy.

Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University and author of the book Adolescence, found this to be true in his 1994 study. That year, he studied 200 families and explored how parents managed the great transition of their child entering puberty. He found that 40% of parents experienced an increase in mental illness once their first child entered adolescence. Parents reported feeling low self-worth, a decline in libido, and an increase in physical symptoms due to stress.


Stressed parents

Certain factors exacerbate the psychological condition of parents when their children become teenagers. For example, divorce, having other children of the same gender, and not having a job or hobby, can make matters worse for parents.

In fact, in his book, Steinberg points out that most teens will make it through the teen years just fine. Of course, this is in opposition to the idea of adolescence that most adhere to. Perhaps the myth of adolescence being tumultuous grew from the work of G. Stanley Hall. He was the first psychologist who began to explore the period of adolescence in the early part of the twentieth century. He saw this stage of life consisting of emotional storms, a time that is turbulent, unruly, and challenging. Since then, that image of the teenage years as being incredibly difficult has stayed in the minds of parents and caregivers.

However, Michael Rutter, a child psychiatrist in the United Kingdom explained it much differently. He indicated that adolescence is a challenging time because a child is searching for his or her identity. However, unlike G. Stanley Hall, Rutter says that adolescence does not have to include storms and turbulence. In fact, most teenagers can move through this stage of life without significant emotional turmoil. Sure, there are challenges that come with the transition from childhood to adulthood, but most teens get through this change without significant behavioral issues or disturbance.

And if this is true, then what creates the conflict parents of teens see time after time? An article in New York Magazine suggests that it’s the idea of a fully protected childhood that parents try to provide their children. As those children enter into adolescence, a time when they are looking for their autonomy and independence, the family dynamic becomes a struggle between allowing that teen to become an adult and keeping them sheltered from the dangers of life.

Resolving Family Conflict

Perhaps the best way to facilitate resolving this conflict is through family-focused therapy. This form of therapy is sometimes simply known as Family Therapy. It is a type of therapy that focuses on the systems and relationships within a family network. It aims to change the relationship within families in order to help them better manage the specific problems they might be facing. This form of therapy is used with a wide range of mental illnesses and is based on two principles:

  • Many mental illnesses are made worse by the dysfunctions present in families.
  • Close family members are often the supports that an individual suffering from mental illness has and are therefore extremely important in treatment.

Family Focused Therapy uses a variety of methods to help to improve the functioning of a family unit including psycho-education, teaching new coping skills, focusing on solutions, and improving the systems that exist within the family. This form of therapy aims to change the way family members interact, improve the functioning of the family as a unit, and improve the functioning of individuals within the family.

It’s interesting to make the family system the cause of adolescent strife. It changes how we look at the teenage years, and it takes the blame off the teenagers and puts the responsibility on the family instead.


Senior, J. (January 12, 2014). The Collateral Damage of a Teenager: What Adolescence Does to Adolescents is Nowhere Near as Brutal as What It Does to Their Parents. New York Magazine. Retrieved on June 9, 2014 from http://nymag.com/news/features/adolescence-2014-1/

Edwards, G., Barkley, R. A., Laneri, M., Fletcher, K., & Metevia, L. (2001). Parent–adolescent conflict in teenagers with ADHD and ODD. Journal Of Abnormal Child Psychology: An Official Publication Of The International Society For Research In Child And Adolescent Psychopathology, 29(6), 557-572. doi:10.1023/A:1012285326937

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