Parents and How Adolescence has Changed Today

For many parents, their child's adolescence seems very different than their own.

Posted Jul 29, 2013

It’s very common to hear parents say: “Our kids are growing up differently than in my day, that’s the problem. Adolescence has really changed.” This statement is often made to explain their discomfort with teenage conduct that feels out of line or is unexpected.

It was in response to this statement that I wrote a little test to help parents assess how much of their adolescent’s unwelcome behavior is in many ways similar to their own at that stage. Comparing the two experiences, how much has adolescence actually changed? The test was first published in my book “The Connected Father,” back in 2007. Just you will know the answers given, either a Yes or No to each item, because the results are for your own eyes only.

 Test Your Memory

 Do You Remember:

1) Wishing your parents would stop treating you like a child?

2) Thinking your parents didn’t understand you?

3) Arguing more with your parents and resenting their authority?

4) Wishing your body would start looking more grown up?

5) Becoming more preoccupied with personal image and dress?’

6) Not liking or spending more time on your appearance?

7) Feeling unpopular for not having friends, enough friends, or the friends you wanted?

8) Testing, getting around, and trying to ‘beat the system’?

9) Putting off parental requests and breaking parental rules?

10) Wanting to stay up later at night and sleep later in the day?

11) Not working hard at school or just hard enough to get by?

12) Not telling parents everything that was going on?

13) Sneaking out after your parents were asleep?

14) Getting into more fights with your parents?

15) Sometimes lying to do the forbidden or get out of trouble?

16) Shoplifting or other stealing to see what you could get away with?

17) Daring something risky, getting away with it, or getting hurt?

18) Wanting to spend more time with friends than with family?

19) Experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs?

20) Being more interested in sex?

21) Hating being bored and loving excitement?

22) Going along with friends when it wasn’t what you wanted to do?

23) Making impulsive decisions that you had later cause to regret?

24) Wanting to engage in adult activities?

25) Doing something illegal to get freedom you desired?

If you answered ‘yes’ to many of these questions, I would suggest that the nature of adolescence hasn’t altered much one generation to the next. There are still the challenges of growing yourself from dependent child to independent young adult, from girl to young woman, from boy to young man. These challenges haven’t changed.

If you can accept this similarity, then you can use your acceptance, and the common experience you share, to better understand and relate to the passage through which your teenager is growing. “Just so you know,” was how one dad explained it to his son, “I did my share of risk taking and lying to cover up my tracks when I was your age, so don’t assume I’m taken in by the story you’re giving me now. We can talk about what really happened whenever you’re ready. I’ll even tell you a few war stories of my own, if you’d like.”

What has changed between the generations is the social context in which adolescence is acted out. The playing field for growing up has been vastly enlarged and complicated by technology. For example, there is now the personal computer and access to the infinite online world of diversion into which one can escape from the demands of offline experience. There is cellular communication that has increased urgency for social connectivity. There is Internet identity and social networking. Then there is a greater variety of psychoactive drugs that are prescriptively and illicitly available today. And there is the content of popular entertainment that is more sensationally explicit and extreme than ever before.

However, add up what is really different and what really isn’t, and although the technological, social, and cultural CONTEXT in which adolescence unfolds has changed a lot between the parents’ and the teenager’s day, I believe the basic adolescent PROCESS – the needs for separation, differentiation, experimentation, exploration, fabrication, opposition, freedom, and independence, for example -- have remained pretty much the same.

For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE” (Wiley, 2013.) More information at:

I welcome questions and suggestions for future blogs.

Next week’s entry: When Adolescents become their Own Worst Enemy