Section 3, Article 3 - As teenagers seek autonomy, the dynamics of family relationships change. While it is important for parents to foster the growth of their adolescent’s independence, they must also limit independence in the best interest of their child. God provides a similar example when He gave Adam and Eve clear directions regarding what was permissible and for their best (Genesis 2:15-17). Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose to go against the boundaries that God had set (Genesis 3). In a similar manner, teenagers may see the limitations set by their parents as restricting and unfair, which may lead to conflict. Conflict tends to be highest during early adolescence when teens are embracing their growing reasoning skills and stretching their assertiveness (). This is one of the many reasons why communication between parents and teens is pivotal, as misunderstandings and misjudgments are quite common (). The relationship between parents and teens develops throughout adolescence, as parents continue to provide supportive parental monitoring while also giving their teens the ability to develop independence (). In turn, teens are better able to trust and understand the motives behind their parents’ rules, allowing them to grow up feeling secure and connected. By the end of adolescence, the parent-child relationship tends to become more egalitarian. Of course, culture plays a role in the development of autonomy, as some cultures value collectivism while others value individualism. Ultimately, research indicates that autonomy is not driven by a universal timetable. Rather, cultural norms and development affect when and how much autonomy develops (). Overall, teenagers and parents tend to have healthy relationships, and the once-believed actually becomes quite small.
As teenagers age, they tend to spend less time with their family and more time with their peers. It is during these years that the relationships between peers seem to matter most (). The quality and type of friendships that teenagers seek are also affected by the parent-child relationship (). When parents are neglectful, peer relationships become all the more important. While peer pressure exists, it is usually productive, especially during the biological and psychosocial changes that occur in early adolescence (; ). There are exceptions to this, as teens sometimes choose friendships that are counterproductive and lead to . In males, increased deviant behavior is linked to earlier signs of aggressive and antisocial behavior (). Peers are influential, but teens tend to choose the influence that they desire and then choose friends who align with that.
During the teenage years, romantic relationships often develop as well. As noted in earlier modules, interaction with others gradually progresses from having exclusively same-sex friends, loosely intermingling with both sexes, socializing in mostly mixed-sex groups, and finally establishing private, intimate relationships. These phases were first noted by Dexter Dunphy () and have since been linked to biological causes, as they tend to be followed by heterosexual youth worldwide. Typically, romance begins in high school and is influenced by peer groups. Early adolescent relationships tend to be superficial, because they have more to do with their peers’ perceptions than true intimacy. Thus, it is not surprising that individuals in early adolescence often go through many break-ups; having emotional support from peers during these times can be vital ().
The hormonal changes that adolescents experience also influence their relationships, especially romantic ones, as they often cause them to become keenly interested in sexual attractions and interactions. In the United States, the average age that people first have intercourse is age 17, with just under half of high school students having intercourse by the end of 12th grade (). Culture and ethnicity also affect the age at which teens engage in sexual relationships ().
A key aspect of romantic relationships is . The expression of one’s sexual orientation can vary from overt to hidden and may exist over a wide range of orientations (). Although experts do not know the reason why people develop one sexual orientation over another, some give credit to interchanges between physiology, genetics, and environment (). As teens work through figuring out their sexual orientation, they may deal with discrimination, insecurities, rejection, and even assault, especially those who are homosexual or bisexual. The Christian’s response to people who are homosexual and bisexual should be filled with grace and compassion, just as Christ demonstrated to the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). In light of the sexual issues and confusion that teenagers wrestle with, it is especially important that parents provide their teens with information. If they do not, then the only information that they receive will be from the media and their peers, which are not the best sources. The best way for parents to influence their teens’ sexual behavior is through cultivating a sincere relationship in which honest, open communication is the norm (; ).