Parenting practices in teen years set the stage for closeness, warmth later on

High-quality parenting practices in adolescence lay the foundation for close parent-child relationships when the children become young adults, according to new research from Penn State.

The study is one of the first to examine how changes in parental involvement, parental warmth, and effective discipline during adolescence predict the quality of the relationships between parents and their young adult children, said Greg Fosco, professor of human development and family studies and associate director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State, who was co-principal investigator on the study.

The study’s findings were published recently in Developmental Psychology. The research team surveyed 1,631 participants in a long-term research study of families in rural and semi-rural Pennsylvania and Iowa who completed surveys between sixth and 12th grades and again at age 22.

“Our research showed that parenting can change a lot during the teenage years: parents often express less warmth and affection, spend less time with their teens, and become more harsh in their discipline. Parents that were able to maintain positive parenting and involvement laid the foundation for a close relationship when their teens became adults,” said Fosco.

Staying involved in teens’ lives may look different than when they were younger, and it can be challenging to stay close with teens as they seek greater independence and autonomy, Fosco acknowledged. Based on the study’s findings, he suggested these activities:

  • Do something together, like playing sports, bike riding, exercising, going for a walk, gaming, cooking, attending events, or going out for a meal or dessert.
  • Work on a project together around the house.
  • Talk about what’s going on at school.
  • Discuss what you want to do in the future.

Further, adolescents who experienced higher levels of parental warmth in the early teen years reported feeling more closeness and warmth with mothers and fathers when they were in their 20s, Fosco said.

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