Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Parents guiding teens: Are teen attitudes changing?

NO. 66
April 8, 2009
The eReview provides analysis on public policy relating to Canadian families and marriage.

Parents guiding teens: Are teen attitudes changing?

By Derek Miedema, Researcher, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada

Is teenage rebellion going out of style? Recent statistics show that teens may be navigating into adulthood these days by having less sex and smoking and drinking less than their counterparts in the 80s. [1] Still, there's a paradox; teens face adult behaviours like early sexual activity, while at the same time sticking around home longer.

Through all this, one thing hasn’t changed: family plays the prime role in teenagers becoming disciplined, self-reliant, contributing and compassionate adults.

Thankfully, the statistics may speak to improved relationships with parents over this transition. And how parents relate to teenage children is an important question in particular because the transition to adulthood is happening more gradually.

A 2007 study by Statistics Canada examined the adult populations aged 18 to 34 between 1971 and 2001. The study found that

In 1971, three-quarters of 22-year olds had left school, nearly half were married and one in four had children. In contrast, in 2001, half of 22-year olds were still in school, only one in five was in a conjugal union (usually common-law), and one in eleven had children. In 2001, young women led men in educational attainment and many more women had full-year fulltime jobs than young women 30 years earlier.[2]

Higher educational attainment means that children remain in the parental home longer than they did in 1971. [3] The changing nature of work means that children in 2001 were more likely to return home after leaving than were teenagers in 1971. [4]

Then there’s the fact that we are delaying the age of marriage by a substantial margin and that cohabitation has replaced marriage as the preferred first relationship for 18-34 year olds by 2001. This is troubling, given the reality that contrary to what most young people are hoping for, cohabitation does not lead to stronger marriages. [5]

A 2007 Poll for the Associated Press and MTV asked 1,280 youth consisting of 618 13 to 17-year-olds and 662 18 to 24 year olds “What one thing in life makes you most happy?” 20 per cent of respondents stated that “spending time with family” was that one thing. [6] This is also seen in the latest results from Dr. Reginald Bibby’s 2008 Project Teen Canada, where 67 per cent of adolescents rate family life as “very important,” up from 59 per cent in 2000. [7]

Seventy three per cent of respondents replied that their relationship with their parents made them either “very happy” or “somewhat happy.” [8] Seventy six per cent said the same thing about their relationship with their family. [9]

As children remain in the family home longer or return from the independence of university to live a summer at home, having a quality relationship with their parents becomes all the more important. In 1971 half of 22-year-olds were married and one in four had children. In that context, young men and women would make the transition to adult not only more quickly, but also more likely outside of the parental home. As young adults remain home throughout college or university years, they will be navigating that transition with their parents under the same roof.

So how do families face the paradox of growing up quickly yet becoming adults more slowly? Some advocate the situational approach. A recent book entitled When Things Get CRAZY wih Your Teen: The Why, the How and What to Do Now, gives advice on how to deal with situations. Johnny is smoking marijuana? Here’s your solution. Mary has become sexually active? Covered. Bobby is hanging out with a bad crowd of friends? Check.

There may be moments in a parent’s life where they need an answer immediately. However, ideally, in the context of a relationship with their children, parents can interact with their children out of a learned respect and love. No person is born a teenager. What happens in the years previous can have a strong effect on how people navigate the journey to adulthood. Family, in particular parents, has a strong role to play in encouraging and guiding children to become healthy, happy adults.

This prolonged or repeated transition has consequences for the parents as well – adjustments of this nature affect everyone. Parents love their children and want the best for them; but the ultimate task for parents is not to put out situational fires but to prepare their children to face the world more or less on their own.

Dr. Karyn Gordon, a Canadian parent and teen coach, has undertaken research in this area as well. Her findings discuss setting boundaries in critical areas. [8] Some of the 13 boundary areas she discusses are:

· Financial

· Responsibility

· Social

· Smoking/Alcohol/Drug

· Emotional

Key here is that we teach our teenagers and young adults according to what their age, maturity level and agreed upon responsibilities should be. This process will need mutual accountability as well. These agreed boundaries will often determine how everyone will resolve new unforeseen issues, as they arise.

Changing situations with our teenagers need not result in confrontation. Though being a teenager can be fraught with difficulty, parents can take heart in knowing their teens want to communicate with them—and if recent stats are any indication, they are even doing more of the right thing than before.


[1] Gillis, C. (2009, April 13). Generation tame. Maclean’s, pp. 36-40.

[2] Clark, W. (2007). Delayed transitions of young adults. Statistics Canada, Canadian Social Trends No. 84 Retrieved April 1, 2009 from

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mitchell, P.J. (2009, February). Growing up married, growing up common-law. Institute for Marriage and Family Canada eReview No. 64. Retrieved April 1, 2009 from,%202009.pdf


Podlich, H. (2007, November 7). Til death do we cohabit? Institute of Marriage and Family Canada eReview No. 28. Retrieved April 6, 2009 from

[6] Knowledge Networks. (2007). The Associated Press-MTV Poll. Retrieved April 1, 2009 from

[7] Gillis, C. (2009, April 13). Generation tame. Maclean’s, p. 38.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Gordon, K. (2008). Dr. Karyn’s Guide to The Teen Years. Toronto: HarperCollins.

Permission is granted to reprint or broadcast this information with appropriate attribution to the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada

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