Washington, DC – A recent Child Trends public opinion poll found that only 28 percent of adults think that parents have a greater influence on teens than teens’ friends or peer group. But, apparently, many teens would not agree. As shown in Child Trends’ newest research brief, most teens report that they think highly of their parents, want to be like them, and enjoy spending time with them.
The brief, Parent-Teen Relationships and Interactions: Far More Positive Than Not, is based on Child Trends’ analyses of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997, which has been following adolescents who were first interviewed in 1997 when they were between the ages of 12 and 14. As part of this survey, these youth were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with several statements about their residential mother and their residential father:
“I think highly of him/her”;
“She/He is a person I want to be like”; and
“I really enjoy spending time with him/her.”
Child Trends analyses show that in 1999, when these youth were between the ages of 14 and 17:
- More than four in five (84 percent) reported that they agreed or strongly agreed that they think highly of their residential mother, and a similar proportion (81 percent) reported that agreed or strongly agreed that they think highly of their residential father;
- More than one-half (57 percent) reported that they agreed or strongly agreed that they wanted to be like their residential mother, while slightly under two-thirds (61 percent) reported that they agreed or strongly agreed that they wanted to be like their residential father; and
- More than three-quarters (79 percent) reported that they really enjoy spending time with their residential mother, while a similar proportion (76 percent) reported that they really enjoy spending time with their residential father.
The authors of the brief acknowledge that the data do show a decline in the proportion of teens reporting positive relationships with their parents during the early teen years but that this decline is fairly modest and it levels off by the time teens are 16 and 17.
“Teens aren’t always easy to get along with,” acknowledges Kristin A. Moore, President and Senior Scholar at Child Trends, who was the lead author of the brief. “Yet compelling evidence shows that the majority of U.S. teens continue to report positive relationships with their parents. This good news somehow isn’t reaching a lot of parents. Our polling has shown that many adults think that parents have less influence on their adolescent children than their teens’ friends.”
“If parents hold such mistaken beliefs, there’s a real risk that they will step back from being involved in the lives of their teens,” adds Moore. “Since research consistently shows that adolescents develop better when they feel close to their parents, it would be a serious loss to all if parents acted as if they were no longer important once their children enter adolescence.”
To provide a broader context for the importance of positive parent-teen relationships and interactions, the research brief also includes a roundup of findings from recent rigorous U.S. studies showing the link between quality parent-teen relationships and a wide range of positive outcomes for teens (including better academic performance and less likelihood of engaging in destructive behaviors). In addition, the brief shares results from Child Trends’ analyses of data from a survey of teens in 21 industrialized countries around the world. These results point to a strong association between frequent parent-youth interactions and higher levels of reading, scientific, and mathematical literacy among teens, reinforcing findings from studies based on U.S. data.
Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.