There is a common view that when young people enter the teenage years their relationships with their parents matter less to them, and other aspects of their lives become far significant in shaping their identity and self-esteem. Contemporary research points, however, in the opposite direction. While parents may come to believe otherwise, they are still the primary people of influence in their young people’s lives during the teenage years, and the nature of their relationships with them has particular importance. A recent study by the UK Children’s Society found that, for 11-15 year olds, happiness with family relationships was the most important of 21 aspects of young people’s lives in predicting their overall sense of wellbeing.
The nature of the interactions between mothers and fathers and their children is especially significant. The study found that:
- In mother-child relationships, the frequency of quarrelling is most strongly associated with happiness and self-esteem.
- In father-child relationships, the frequency of talking about things that matter is most strongly associated with happiness and self-esteem.
- Young people are more likely to talk to a parent of the same gender about things that matter to them than a parent of the opposite gender.
- The frequency of talking to both fathers and mother about things of significance more than halves between the ages of 11 and 15.
- A large majority of 15 year olds reported that they had significant conversations with their parents less than once a week (and with fathers less than mothers).
It seems that for parents, taking the time to share, listen and communicate respectfully with their teenagers about “things that matter” is perhaps the most significant way to impact their lives for the better. While material provision is important, it is no substitute for healthy, caring relationships.
For parents of faith, conversation about “things that matter” will, of course, include reflecting together on Christian beliefs and values. Where and when God is invited into the “space” between parents and children he acts to strengthen them in their relationships with him and with one another. He delights in turning the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents (Malachi 4:6).