Parent-Child Conflict: Changing Family Relationships in Adolescence

The personal challenges children face as they transition into adolescence are difficult enough as they are; however, their changing perception of their social role can lead to strained relationships with family whose support they may reject during this difficult period. As children grow up, they believe they are expected to become more independent, often very quickly, rather than gradually making more of their own choices. Although they may be stressed out by situations at school or with their friends, teens are more likely to demand space and privacy than to reach out to their parents, even if they know they would come to their rescue. Family relationships change in adolescence as parents try to navigate a balance between letting their child be more independent and protecting them from negative situations. Parent-child conflict can become an issue for many families.

Rejection of Childhood

In adolescence there are fewer boundaries around family relationships. While children rely on parents to take care of their needs, young adults are able to rebuild relationships with parents once they are in similar roles. Parents of teens try to play both of these distinct roles at once.
For a lot of teenagers, they associate growing up with letting go of their childhood. This is well-intentioned as they become critical thinkers and gain more responsibility, but it can also lead to pushing other people away who remind them of their remaining childlike qualities. A common argument between teens and parents is “I’m not a child anymore.” 
For some, this means showing less public affection or not checking in as often, but other teens detach from their childhood by participating in risky adult behaviors that they think will put them on the fast track to being considered “mature.”

Personality Changes in Adolescence 

While everyone responds to the transition to adolescence differently, some of these factors contribute to teen’s emotional and behavioral issues during this period. These are all normal developmental changes in adolescence, but can feel like a dramatic shift, creating problems in family relationships: 

  • Less agreeable and more argumentative
  • Less cheerful and more irritable
  • Less conforming and more defiant
  • Less communicative and more private
  • Less sensitive and more self-centered
  • Less appreciative and more ungrateful
  • Less orderly and more disorganized
  • Less into family and more into friends

Parent-Child Conflict

Teens compare their family relationships to what they’ve heard about their peer’s families and set expectations for what they “should be like” based off this information, even if most kids don’t share all the details. It’s socially acceptable for teenagers to explain “why they hate their parents today” to their friends and then either change their reason or take it back. Rather than a negative home environment, most parent-child conflict is based on a lack of communication. Sometimes, it takes escalated voices for kids to choose to express themselves and by then it’s turned more volatile than productive. This reinforces the resentment you may feel for them growing up and the resentment they feel for not being fully grown just yet.
Some ways to minimize resentment in family relationships include:

  • Use “I feel” statements to take responsibility for your own emotions, rather than accusing them of “making you feel” any kind of way.
  • Avoid blaming name-calling, using words like “lazy, irresponsible, or disrespectful” that can affect their self-esteem.
  • State your opinion on things, not your disapproval to allow them to make more decisions for themselves without them feeling like they’ll never live up to expectations.
  • Don’t personalize how they’ve changed. Spending more time alone or with friends is not a reflection on you.
  • Remember that your relationship is not broken beyond repair.

Trails Carolina Can Help 

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that helps teens ages 10-17 who are struggling with mental health issues and risky behaviors. This program uses adventure-based therapy to help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. Trails’ unique family programming involves parents throughout their teen’s journey and encourages them to explore what a healthy relationship would look like. The skills they learn throughout the wilderness program offer long-term benefits towards their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. 
For more information about family involvement at our wilderness therapy program, call 800-975-7303. We can help your family today!

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Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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