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How do adolescents and parents experience parenting in daily life?

How adolescents perceive parenting is related to their mood. Differences between the perspectives of parents and adolescents are also of importance for adolescents’ mood. That is what research by Loes Janssen and her Leiden University colleagues in Clinical Psychology shows. Open Access publication in Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

During adolescence, adolescents start spending more time away from their parents and become more independent. Yet a warm and supportive parent-child relationship remains essential to adolescents’ well-being. But what exactly does that entail? What is seen as warm or supportive behavior by a parent may be experienced very different by an adolescent. For example, the adolescent may experience a certain comment from a parent as very critical, while the parent self thinks that he or she is very constructive.

Becoming more attuned

It appears to be important to include the differences and similarities between the perceptions of parents and adolescents about daily parenting behavior when researching the mood of adolescents. This also has practical relevance. If adolescents and parents become more aware of how different they experience the same situation and discuss this with each other, it may result in better understanding. Parents may realize that their often well-intentioned behavior does not always fit with what young people need, and young people may better understand the intentions of their parents.

Answering questions through the app

As part of the RE-PAIR study, parents and adolescents (between the ages of 12 and 18) from 80 families from all over the Netherlands were asked for 14 days via an app to indicate how warm and critical parents behaved in mutual contact during the day. Adolescents filled out these questions about both their mother and father separately. Parents filled this out only about themselves. This enabled the researchers to test whether there were differences between mother-child and father-child dyads. Adolescents also filled out four times a day how positive and negative they felt at that moment.

The mismatch between parents and adolescents

After 19 months of data collection, Janssen found that the adolescent's perspective about parental behavior was related to the adolescent's mood. For example, if they perceived a parent as warm, the adolescent usually had a more positive mood on the same day. Moreover, what was important for adolescents' daily well-being was not the perspective of the parents per se, but rather the degree to which it matched or differed from the adolescent's perspective. For example, adolescents reported more negative mood on days when they reported less warmth from parents than the parents themselves. This seems to indicate a mismatch between adolescents' needs and parents' behavior.

Adolescents more positive about parents than parents themselves

Janssen was the first to use these daily measurements. In contrast to previous studies, it was striking that adolescents were actually more positive about their parents' behavior than parents themselves. Adolescents indicated that they found both their mother and father warmer and less critical than parents saw themselves, averaged across the two weeks. It should be noted, however, that there were differences between the parent-child dyads. In 34% of mother-child dyads and 50% of father-child dyads, adolescents perceived their parents as warmer and more supportive. This was reversed in 20% of mother-child dyads and 17% of father-child dyads; in these, parents perceived themselves to be warmer than their adolescents. Even within the parent-child dyads, these perspectives differed from moment to moment. On some days, the adolescent perceived their parent as warmer and more supportive, and on other days, the parent perceived themselves as warmer than the adolescent. This shows how dynamic parenting behavior is.

Open Access publication

Loes H. C. Janssen, Perceptions of Parenting in Daily Life: Adolescent-Parent Differences and Associations with Adolescent Affect,  Journal of Youth and Adolescence (2021)

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