As children move into adolescence, it starts to become real to parents that this once small and helpless baby is soon going to be an independent adult. Many parents may worry about the attitude and disrespect they see in their teen – will they be able to hold a job? Will they be responsible enough to pay their bills?
The questions that come to the minds of parents likely reflect their own values; have they been able to instill values in their teenager? Friends and peers play more of a role in the influence of an adolescent, and some parents may worry that the values with which their teen has grown up are completely lost.
For better or for worse, the values of parents do not always become the values of their children as they reach adolescence and adulthood. There are a number of factors that may influence how likely it is that a teenager will value the same things that their parents do.
Research by Knafo and Schwartz (2012) examined several aspects of the parent-teen relationship and how that impacted the similarity in values. They define values as overarching goals that “serve as guiding principles for behavior, for justifying actions and for evaluating people and events.” The study included 547 families of a teen aged 15-19. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire about their own values, and also to rate how they would like their teen to respond. Teenagers completed the same questionnaire about their own values and also asked how they think their parents would like them to respond. In addition to the questionnaire about values, teens were also asked to examine their relationship with their parents.
Three Relationship Factors
Knafo and Schwartz were curious about three specific areas within the parent-teen relationship. First, how much the teen identified with their parent; that is, do they see their parent as a role model, do they aspire to be like their parent?
Second, they looked at how teens perceived their parents’ warmth and responsiveness; do they feel their parent is affectionate and sensitive toward them?
Finally, does the teenager view their parent’s words as consistent with their actions?
All Three Are Important
The results of the study found correlations between how much teens look up to their parents (seeing their parents as a role model) and how similar their values were to their parents’.
Importantly, both of these things also correlated with how warm and responsive teens judged their parents to be; that is, the adolescents who felt their parents were affectionate and involved in their lives were more likely to want to emulate their parents and accept their values.
And, not surprisingly, when teens felt that what parents said matched up with actions, they were more likely to accept their values.
It's About Your Relationship
While we want teens to be able to have their own opinions and to discover what they believe for themselves, we also hope that they will accept many of the principles that we have tried to teach them. This study tells us that our relationship with teens is essential in how they accept those principles and values.
Being warm and responsive might involve things like telling your teen that you love them, involving them in making decisions, and providing opportunities for them to talk and be listened to. As well, teens are very perceptive of hypocrisy, so if we expect them to abide by certain rules and values, we have to be able to show them that we also live by those rules.
By Kristi MacDonald
Knafo, A., & Schwartz, S. (2012). Relational identification with parents, parenting, and parent–child value similarity among adolescents. Family Science, 3(1), 13-21. doi:10.1080/19424620.2011.707794