Adolescence: A Time of Transition for the Whole Family

Adolescence brings about many changes within both the individual child as well as the entire family. These changes can bring both excitement and challenges as the developing teenager seeks out his or her autonomy and identity. Parents are important agents within this developmental transition, serving as a secure base while teenagers explore their environment. This can be accomplished through parenting strategies that foster support and encourage exploration.

Three prototypical styles of parenting are often discussed in parenting research: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. These three styles are characterized along two broad dimensions, warmth and strictness, which can be balanced or adjusted based on the needs and situations presented. Authoritarian parenting is restrictive and controlling but low on warmth and responsiveness. Permissive parenting is responsive and warm, but with few limits and expectations. Authoritative parenting offers a balance of warmth and strictness.  Generally speaking, an authoritative style provides the balance of warmth and firmness teens need to explore their individuality and maintain their connectedness with family. During the transition from childhood to adolescence, however, parents may need to adjust how they express both their warmth and strictness in response to their teen’s development.

Warmth and responsiveness can assist teens in feeling secure and supported.  Effective expressions of warmth, however, may be different for adolescents than for children. For example, physical affection may be less appropriate as teenagers assert autonomy and independence. Similarly, parents may need to adjust their limits and expectations. They might allow teens to have more choices as to how to spend their time in order to promote autonomy and decision-making. Discussions around curfew, chores, dating, and friends will need to occur.  It is important that parents explicitly state their expectations around such topics.

Because adolescence is a time of transition and adjustment, conflict may occur between parents and teens. Moderate conflict may actually be helpful as parents and teens respond to new circumstances. If the conflict becomes too difficult to manage, seeking the help of a therapist may facilitate healthier communication and conflict resolution.  Family therapy can assist the family in creating a more supportive environment to navigate the exciting and challenging transitional period of adolescence.


Barber, B. K., Maughan, S.L., & Olsen, J. A. (2005). Patterns of parenting across adolescence. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 108, 5-16.

Liddle, H. A., Rowe, C., Diamond, G. M., Sessa, F. M., Schmidt, S., & Ettinger, D. (2000). Toward a developmental family therapy: The clinical utility of research on adolescence. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26, 485-500.

Nosko, A., Tieu, T.-T., Lawford, H., & Pratt, M. W. (2011, January 10). How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Parenting during adolescence, attachment styles, and romantic narratives in emerging adulthood. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0021814.

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