Distress in family relationships often increases as adolescents strive for more autonomy and independence. So far, research has mainly focused on general patterns of relationship quality development, while individual differences in development received less attention. However, whereas some adolescents might perceive distress in their relationship development, others might not. It could also be that those who perceive distress succeed in restoring the relationship quality with their parents by the end of adolescence, whereas others fail. This study provides a comprehensive perspective on changes in parent-adolescent relationship quality by examining both general and individual developmental patterns. First, we examined the general and typical developments by exploring change and stability in the prevalence of relationship quality profiles across the years. Second, we identified the atypical developments by investigating individual patterns that explain the changes in prevalence of profiles (i.e., patterns of adolescents changing from one profile to another).
In the present study, we used a two-cohort five-wave longitudinal study design covering ages 12 to 16 (n = 919, 49.2% female) and 16 to 20 (n = 392, 56.6% female). Adolescents’ perceived support, conflict, and relative power in the relationship with their mothers and fathers were measured using the Network of Relationships Inventory. A latent transition analysis was performed to generate relationship profiles using the support, conflict, and power relationship variables. Additionally, this analysis identifies the number of adolescents in each relationship profile at every measurement occasion and estimates the extent to which adolescents remain in their current profile or change into another.
From ages 12 to 16 years, only a subgroup of adolescents moved away from perceiving an authoritative relationship with their parents or changed into an uninvolved-discordant or turbulent relationship. Interestingly, some continued to perceive an authoritative relationship and many changed into perceiving a harmonious relationship with their parents. From ages 16 to 20 years, a majority of adolescents changed the relationship with their parents into an egalitarian and harmonious one. However, some continued to perceive the relationship with their parents as uninvolved-discordant or turbulent.
Our study provides new and unique evidence for adolescence being far less intense than presumed, as only a minority of adolescents experienced distress in the relationship with their parents. Importantly, we demonstrated that many adolescents successfully grew to perceive themselves as independent individuals and simultaneously established a satisfactory relationship by the end of adolescence despite the distress that emerged. Together, our promising findings mark the need for studying individual differences in relationship development across adolescence.
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