As they get older, it is easy to think that your teenage children would choose their friends over you in a heartbeat. And why would they not? They roll their eyes at your rules and what they think is your out-of-touch view on things. Plus, their friends tend to be high on their list of priorities at that age. However, a recent study out of the University of California, Los Angeles shows that your teenage children are much more loyal to you than you are probably giving them credit for.
Parents Still Matter
In their study, the psychologists at UCLA showed that when they were forced to make a decision that either benefited a close friend or a parent, teenage children and young adults are more likely to choose their parent.
The study involved playing a series of games that forced teenage children and young adult participants to choose between the interests of a parent and a friend of their choosing. Before playing, the participants completed a survey that assessed their feelings toward the parent and their friend. Participants indicated that they had positive feelings toward both the parent and friend, but they typically felt like their relationship with the friend was stronger.
In a particular set of the games during the experiment, when participants knew they were playing to benefit their parent, they were more than 25% more likely to make choices to benefit the parent. When it came down to it, the teenage children and young adults chose their parent. Afterwards, many participants said they felt that they owed it to their parent for all they had done.
The Value of Parents to Teenage Children
Teenage children might perceive that they value their friendships more than their relationship with their parents, but as shown in the UCLA study, they actually value their parents highly. During the teenage years, peer interactions are very important. Those interactions help teach the social skills that will become important as they go to college, enter the workplace, and have serious adult relationships. But their relationship with their parents is also still so important.
At this age, teenagers still need their parents to teach them a lot of the life skills they need as they become adults. Parents teach their teenage children the rules of society – things like how to drive and how to behave when you need to go talk to your college professor or interview for a job. Parents also bear the responsibility of teaching their kids about substance use and healthy sexuality. Long-term scientific research has shown that teenage children value the opinions of their parents on both of these topics. Parents are the ones whose opinions matter the most when it comes down to the big stuff. Not the internet or their friends.
Parents provide safe boundaries, which teenagers will inevitably test. Pushing the boundaries is an expected part of the teenage years, and there is a healthy aspect to kids testing the limits of what is acceptable. However, they need clear limits and a safety net of sorts to keep them from pushing too far. Parents obviously play this vital role. Your teenager knows that you are there to protect them. Whether they consciously realize it or not though, they also know that you are going to be there to protect them when they inevitably push too far.
Ready for the Sweetest Part?
With all that parents do for their children, it should not be surprising that they want their parents to be okay and happy. Psychology shows that children – including teenage children – feel most secure when they know that their parents are okay. This is partially because parents are the ones who set the tone for their kids. When children know that their parents are unstable or unwell, they are also often, to some degree, unstable and unwell.
Part of why teenage children like to see their parents happy and well is because they look at their parents as a model for adulthood. When teenagers look at their parents, they see what their adulthood might look like, so it is important for them to see what a happy, healthy adult looks like. That does not mean as a parent you have to pretend that everything is perfect all the time. It means that it is important to model what it is to be a good, healthy adult – make good choices, take care of your responsibilities, deal with issues when they arise, get help when you need it, etc.
Raising teenage children is not always easy. It is a whole new world of attitude, peers, and adult-like choices. Your baby has grown up and, sometimes it seems, has grown away from you. It can be scary as a parent. With all of that, you can take solace in knowing that you still matter to your teenager. They may not always show it, but they want you to be happy and appreciate everything you have done for them. Now you have the science to prove it.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Why Adult Children Need Their Parents More than Ever.