The Dance of Parental Accommodation With Adolescent Change

As the teenager grows older, parental influence declines, but is not lost.

Posted Nov 02, 2020

Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.
Source: Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.

With the onset of adolescence (around ages 9-13) both teenagers and parents can find getting along with each other more challenging to do than when the young person was still content to be defined as just a child.

Adolescent: “My parents have changed. They used to be mostly playful, loving, and fun; but now they’re more demanding, impatient, and serious.”

Parents: “Our child has changed. They used to be mostly content, interested, and affectionate; but now they’re more argumentative, dissatisfied, and insensitive.” 

So: who is responsible should any of these alterations occur? They both are, because as adolescence changes the child it also changes the parent in response, changing the old relationship between them. 

As the young person’s coming of age passage gets underway, the girl or boy expresses more individuality and asserts more independence on their journey to young womanhood or young manhood. Now the parental challenge is to stay caringly and communicatively connected with their teenager as they increasingly grow apart. 

In the process, parents must learn to dance with many adolescent changes. Accommodation is how this awkward dance is done. 

The art of accommodation

Accommodation is a two-step parental dance with adolescent change: adjusting to what they cannot alter and insisting on what they may be able to influence. 

Parenting a teenager becomes one complicated judgment call after another. So, when their 6th grader adopts a new look that contrasts with what was worn in the elementary grades, one that is unfamiliar or seems inappropriate in parental eyes, they are told: “This is what everyone wears; I won’t fit in if I don’t dress like everybody else!” Their daughter or son wants to keep up with the older, changing clothing fashion of middle school.  

So, the parental accommodation: “We understand your need to dress differently now; but how and to what degree we want to discuss.”

Common accommodations

Counseling with parents of teenagers over the years, I’ve seen adult accommodations to many adolescent changes. A few common examples follow. 

  • Parents adjust to less communication but insist on honesty. “We know you won’t confide as much, but we still expect to be adequately and accurately informed.”
  • Parents adjust to more disorganization but insist on adequate order. “We know keeping things picked up and put away is harder now, but we expect regular effort to do so.”  
  • Parents adjust to more forgetfulness but insist on honoring commitments. “We know remembering everything is harder now, but we expect you to keep agreements with us.”  
  • Parents adjust to less control but insist on core compliance. “We know you want to follow your own rules, but we also expect you to abide by the basics of ours.”  
  • Parents adjust to more push for freedom but insist on responsibility. “We support you making more choices, but we expect you to own and face the natural consequences of doing so.”
  • Parents adjust to the worldly curiosity of adolescents but insist on giving what cautionary information they can. “When you decide to try what we wish you wouldn’t yet; here is how to do so mindfully.”
  • Parents adjust to the growing importance of friends but insist on family membership. “We know social life matters more now, but we expect adequate home involvement as well.”
  • Parents adjust to increased peer pressure but insist that independent choice prevail. “We know it’s hard to resist going along, but we expect you to do what you know is right.”
  • Parents adjust to more requests for money but insist on budgeting to meet expenses. “We know there’s more you want, but you must manage what we give to make it last.”
  • Parents adjust to more delay but insist on completion. “We know it feels easy to put off what you’re asked to do, but we will pursue our requests until they are met.”
  • Parents adjust to more resistance to homework but insist it is accomplished. “We know sometimes you want to skip assignments, but we will supervise to see you get them done.”  
  • Parents adjust to internet preoccupation but insist on adequate screen-free time. “We know online activity is of value, but we want you to have sufficient offline activity too.”
  • Parents adjust to night-time freedom but insist on what bedtime and out-time are going to be. “We know you want to stay up and out longer, but we want to curfew how late this will be.”
  • Parents adjust to more intensity but insist on talking and not acting it out. “We know this is a more emotional time, but we expect you to tell us, rather than show us when you’re feeling upset.” 
  • Parents adjust to more arguing but insist on firmness they must take. “While we want to hear all you have to say, sometimes our decision may remain unchanged.” 
  • Parents adjust to more risk-taking but insist on predictive preparation. “As you take more chances, we expect you to think ahead and prepare for possible problems and dangers.”
  • Parents adjust to more disagreements but insist they are conducted safely.  “Conflict is natural, but never an excuse for either of us to act harmfully or say hurtful words.”

Realistic accommodation

Accommodation is not about parents always getting their way with the adolescent, because they won’t. However, if they keep dancing, adjusting where they must, and insisting where they can, some consent with what they want will result. And as their teenager grows older, “some” is going to have to be enough.