Adolescents . . . are the human equivalent of salt, intensifying whatever mix they’re in. They exacerbate conflicts already in progress, especially those at work or in the marriage, sometimes unmasking problems parents hadn’t recognized or consciously acknowledged for years. Steinberg might even go so far as to say that the so-called crises of midlife would be a good deal less troublesome if adolescents weren’t around. But teenagers have an uncanny way of throwing problems, whatever they are, into high relief.
All children do this, of course, to some degree. The question is why do adolescents have this effect more than, say, children of seven? For that, a historical explanation is useful, and it would run something like this: adolescence, more than any other phase of child-rearing is when the paradoxes of modern childhood assert themselves most vividly. It is a particularly problematic time for a child to be, as Viviana Zelizer would say, useless.
. . . Parents today no choice, of course, but to shelter their children for long stretches of time. Kids are no longer allowed to drop out of school in order to work, and the world now requires more and more schooling to succeed. What’s more, parents feel a great need to protect their children. Many, especially in the middle class, have waited forever to have them. They fear for their physical safety and economic security. They’ve been told—by experts, by other parents, by a variety of media—that they ought to spend untold hours nurturing the. Nurturing has become their way of life.
But, as children get older, they crave independence, agency, a sense of their own purpose. Keeping them sheltered and regimented for so long, while they’re biologically evolving into adults and striving to become who they’re meant to become, can have some pretty strange and exhausting consequences. The contemporary home because a place of perpetual liminal tension, with everyone trying to work out whether adolescents are adults or kids. Sometimes the husband thinks the answer is one thing while the wife thinks the answer is the other; sometimes the parents agree but the child does not. But whatever the answer—and it is usually not obvious—the question generates stress.
. . . For the last decade or so, says Nancy Darling, research–including her own–has shown pretty consistently that adolescent girls and boys both direct more verbal abuse at their mothers than at their fathers, and they make more physical threats against their mothers too (though both boys and girls are more likely to enact their aggressive impulses against their fathers). According to Steinberg’s research, mothers are also more likely than fathers to quarrel with their adolescent children, and (perhaps as a result of this high-frequency conflict) to bring more family stress into their workplaces.
– All Joy and No Fun The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior