Parent–child communication during adolescence

Susan Branje, Brett Laursen, W. Andrew Collins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

94 Scopus citations


Conventional wisdom regards parent-adolescent communication as an oxymoron. As is often the case with adolescence, however, conventional wisdom can be misleading. Although communication during the adolescent years certainly is a challenge for parents and children, this challenge stems primarily from the changing nature of the relationship, not from an inherent inability of adolescents and parents to engage in meaningful conversation (for recent reviews, see Laursen & Collins, 2009; Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Metzger, 2006). As families navigate the transition from childhood into adulthood, the frequency and content of their interactions change. Increasing adolescent autonomy inevitably alters patterns of self-disclosure, shared experiences, and perceptions of privacy and responsibilities. Yet even in the face of these significant alterations, familial emotional bonds are noteworthy for their resilience and continuity. To the extent that there is a generation gap, it is as much a product of incongruent perceptions and expectations as it is of inadequate or insuficient conversation (Steinberg, 2001). Parents and adolescents do not necessarily share the same view of the relationship and their ability to communicate, nor are their perspectives typically congruent with those of observers outside the relationship. Parents and adolescents pursue different implicit goals and timetables regarding the adolescent's autonomy, which may give rise to communication dificulties (Collins & Laursen, 2004). But families differ widely in the extent to which autonomy has a corrosive effect on parent-child communication. For some it is a dificult passage, but most families are well equipped to navigate the developmental challenges of adolescence. This chapter will describe how patterns of parent-child communication are transformed across adolescence years in terms of changes in the nature and functions of relationships. We will focus on salient aspects of parent-adolescent relationships that best illustrate alterations in patterns of communication. The chapter is divided into five sections. The first section provides an overview of theoretical accounts of parent-child relationships during adolescence. Most models of development assume perturbations in family relationships during the adolescent years, although there is less agreement as to the implications for family communication. The second section describes continuity and change in manifestations of parent-adolescent closeness. For most families, closeness and interdependence decline across adolescence, but the fall-off in intimate communication appears to be especially pronounced for those in troubled relationships. The third section describes continuity and change in manifestations of parent-adolescent conflict. Expressions of anger and coercion may increase during the transition from childhood to adolescence, particularly among families with prior communication dificulties, but strife is not a normative feature of this age period. The fourth section describes continuity and change in manifestations of parent-adolescent monitoring and information management. Parental control of adolescents’ unsupervised activities may increasingly threaten adolescents’ growing needs for autonomy, and parents need to provide an emotional climate in which adolescents voluntarily disclose information about their activities and whereabouts. The concluding remarks place changing patterns of parentadolescent communication in the larger context of relationship transformations from childhood to adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Family Communication
PublisherTaylor and Francis - Balkema
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781136946370
ISBN (Print)9780415881982
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


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