Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Teen Connection: Family and Friends

by Linda Shaw 
A Teen’s Connection: Family and Friends

At a recent family gathering we asked our children to list both the good and the “not so good” happenings of 2010.  As our list grew more detailed and more lop-sided on the side of “good” our son noticed a pattern.  At last he yelled, “Look at all the friends in our life. Most all of good things involve family and friends.”

It Takes a Village

Parenting was never meant to be a solo act.  Weather you are parenting your adolescent alone or with your spouse, the value of an extended family network cannot be overrated.
An ancient African proverb teaches, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and most parents understand the value, strength, and support grandparents, extended kin, and friends have in the socialization of our teens.  As adolescents begin to explore and experience life they turn first to their parents for advice and then gradually to those other significant adults that they have learned to trust.

Researcher Margaret Beam in her article, “The nature of adolescents' relationships with their "very important" non parental adults” calls these other significant adults, “Very Important non-parental Adults” or (VIP's) for short.  Beam’s research focused on the natural tendency for adolescents to reach out and develop friendships with caring adults other than their parents. I found her research eye opening and very helpful.

Isn't Family Enough?

Although I have always known that I needed a “village” to raise my children, finding one that I could trust seemed to go against all of my intuition. I wanted to raise my children with my values, with my standards, and in my way. I felt they were entrusted to me and so it ultimately comes back to me. Right? As parents we are where the buck stops? Yes and No.

Yes because it is ultimately our responsibility to ensure that our teens learn the lessons that society demands of them. The term socialization as defined in the Bloombergs Guide to Human Thought  "is the term used by sociologists and anthropologists to refer to the process by which a individual member of a society acquires its... culture."  Although as parents we are ultimately responsible for our child’s lessons and behavior (when it comes to the law), it is to this very society that we turn to help our children learn what we either cannot teach or they will not learn from us.  As our children mature throughout their adolescent years they become acutely aware of their limited time within their parents home and begin to understand the need to function within their community.

Case Study 

A sixteen year old boy developed a relationship with a 32 year old friend of the family. As an only child of parents whom he described as "moderately warm and having strong sanctions," he felt his parental relationship was normal. They had occasional arguments and he often pushed their limits. He had peer friendships of which he shared "almost everything." 
This young man, however felt that his VIP relationship served a special role for him. As close friends to his parents, this particular 32 year old had no children of his own and therefore enjoyed the "friendship" of the sixteen year old. This relationship developed as the families shared recreational activities together. The friendship began when the boy was about 12 and the teen called it a sibling relationship stating, "He's like an older brother to me." 

The VIP played a unique role from that of his parents in that he was able to "talk to him about things I wouldn't talk to my parents about, like relationships or sex."  He felt that if he were to talk to his parents about such things they might set new rules, but the VIP tends to only give advice. He felt that the VIP (as an adult) would give him correct advice (as opposed to peers) and wouldn't lead me the wrong way. The role model that the VIP played was understood. The "social experiences and status of VIP's are likely to make them a better source of guidance and role models." 
·      This adolescents VIP not only played a role that his parents could not fulfill, but also one that peers typically do not play: "I can tell him anything that I can tell my friends, but he gives me correct advice, as an adult-he wouldn't lead me the wrong way. He knows that I look up to him-he's like a role model." Although peers could have played some of the same roles, the social experiences and status of nonparental adults are likely to make them a better source of guidance and role models.  

   The  Value of Family Friendships 

Teens will reach for relationships outside of their family not because they disrespect their parents values, but because they have an inherent need to find socialization. This study gives clear proof that a large majority of teens have or have had a significant relationship with a VIP as a normal part of their development. Coaches, teachers, Ecclesiastical teachers and leaders, extended family, neighbors, etc. all play vital roles in our teens life. Embracing their presence and welcoming them into your family's dynamics will only prove to help your child find greater trust in the world that awaits them. 
Some of the most interesting points that I gleaned from Beams article:

  •     Parents are arguably the most important adults in the lives of most children
  •   Next to Parents, VIP's play a vital role in the psychological and sociological development of teens.
    •    Adolescents were significantly less likely to be involved in misconduct when VIPs showed disapproval of the adolescents' participation in such behaviors, even after controlling for the attitudes of peers and parents.
    • Positive effects of a VIP relationship with teens include: fewer antisocial activities, better academics, improved attitude, good behavior, and better relationship with family and friends. (Tierney, Grossman, & Resch 1995)
    • 82 % (243 adolescents studied) had VIP that played key roles in their lives.
    •  Of the 199 who reported having a VIP ONLY 23% stated that the VIP entered their life at a time of trauma or significant event.
    • Most adolescents (more than 80%) reported that the VIPs were important to them in the following ways: showing respect, providing emotional support, serving as someone to talk to, and supporting various activities adolescents were engaged in.
    • Two thirds of the adolescents indicated that they considered their VIP to be "like a parent."
    • VIPs provide a type of support that peers cannot. They become role models, offer trusted guidance in matters of financial, social etc. 
    • Of the 199 adolescents who reported having a VIP, an almost equal number identified kin (52%) and non kin (48%) individuals as their VIPs.
    •  Family members most frequently cited were aunts/uncles (22%) and siblings (14%). Grandparents were mentioned by 9%, and cousins by 7% of adolescents. 
    • Nonkin VIPs most frequently cited were older friends (14%) and teachers (7%).

    What are a few Significant Adults that help your child find their sense of socialization? 

    How do you encourage your child's relationship with VIP's of your choice? 

    Why do you think it is important to monitor your child's relationship with their 

    Margaret R Beam, Chuansheng Chen, & Ellen Greenberger. (2002). The nature of adolescents' relationships with their "very important" nonparental adults. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(2), 305-25.  Retrieved January 5, 2011, from Research Library. (Document ID: 115168195).



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