New study: Teens with secure family relationships bring more empathy to peer conversations

Source: News release by the Society for Research in Child Development

Teens’ ability to empathize – to understand others’ perspectives and emotions, and to care for their wellbeing – is an important contributor to their relationships, including with friends.

Prior research shows that teens who have more secure family relationships report higher levels of empathy for others, but little research examines whether teens with more secure family relationships actually show greater empathy when observed in real-life interactions with peers, or whether their empathic capacities show different patterns of growth over time.

A new study – by researchers at the University of Virginia – tested whether teens’ secure, supportive family relationships at age 14 related to their ability to provide their friends with empathic support across adolescence and into early adulthood.

Findings indicate that secure attachment – reflecting on close relationships in an emotionally balanced, coherent, and valuing way – predicts teens’ ability to provide empathic support to their close friends.

“What’s especially interesting is that close friends also sought out more support from securely attached teens,” said Jessica Stern, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia.

Related: The room of a teenage boy, a look at attachment parenting with teens

While having secure family relationships at age 14 predicted greater empathy with peers across adolescence, those teens who did not have secure family relationships in early adolescence showed a pattern of catching up, increasing their empathy toward close friends as they developed.

This study is among the first to examine associations of attachment with the development of empathic support using longitudinal methods and observations of empathic support for friends across mid-adolescence.

The findings were published in the journal Child Development. This research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.

The study featured a sample of 184 adolescents (86 males, 98 females) recruited from a public middle school (7th and 8th grades) in suburban and urban populations from the southeastern United States. Adolescents in the study were 58% Caucasian, 29% African American, 8% mixed race or ethnic, and 5% other identity groups.

In the current study, teens at age 14 responded to an interview about their attachment relationships, unlike most prior studies which used self-report measures of attachment style and empathy. Teens who described their attachment relationships as supportive, who valued those relationships and reflected on them with coherence and emotional balance, were rated as more secure.

Related: How to heal attachment with your teen

At ages 16, 17 and 18, teens and their nominated closest friend participated in a video-recorded, 6-minute task in which teens helped friends deal with a problem they were facing. Friends’ bids for support, as well as teens’ ability to provide empathic support, were coded from videos of this task.

The findings suggest a strong association between a teen’s having a secure attachment – or perspective on attachment relationships as supportive – and the development of the capacity to provide empathic support to close friends across a 4-year period of adolescence.

Results also suggest that friends’ support-seeking develops alongside teens’ ability to deliver empathy, with support-seeking helping empathy to develop and empathy fostering support-seeking from friends as well.

“Investing in the quality of teens’ family relationships early in adolescence may be important for building empathy and positive interactions with peers,” Stern said. “Parenting programs, family therapy when needed, and school-based interventions that help young teens feel safe and supported in their relationships with adults – not only parents but teachers, mentors, and extended kin – may equip teens to ‘pay it forward’ in their empathy and care for others.”

2 paths to adulthood…which will your teen take?

unnamedRaising teenagers is a frustrating business.

We are not sure how much freedom to give them or how much responsibility they can handle. We try to set limits, but we get lost in dealing with their defiance and counterwill. We are not sure when rebellion is healthy or when it is a sign of a deeper problem.

Interacting with them is confusing. Sometimes they behave like young children, yet at other times they seem adult-like.

One thing is clear: We have a responsibility to help them cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood successfully.

Crossing this bridge has become a much longer and more arduous journey than ever before. In traditional societies, this bridge was quite short, as children moved directly into the adult world, marrying at a young age and integrating into their family’s farm or business, and community. Today young people have many more options to choose from.

For the first time in human history, there is a youth culture that has its own codes, dress and behaviors, setting it even farther apart from the adult world. As a result, there are many ways of getting stuck or falling off the bridge to adulthood.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains that nature has provided two paths to adulthood:

  • The first path is the master blueprint of maturation. This is the ideal path, but it is more difficult and less traveled.

This is the path to true maturation, where the adolescent discovers his true individuality and personhood. He has an explosion of awareness as he begins to think conceptually, reflectively and idealistically. He experiences the conflict and complexity of reality as he struggles to define his boundaries, priorities, values and goals. This path prepares him for integrating into society without losing his own true self.

It is exciting to see this remarkable and unique person emerge, discovering his own meanings and purpose in life!

  • The second path is nature’s back-up plan. This is the road of conformity, the detour to adulthood.

Culture pushes the adolescent towards this path when it is concerned about more about fitting into society. The child “learns” how he is supposed to behave, and he takes on the form that others prescribe for him. His energy is invested in  conforming rather than in discovering himself.

This is an acceptable way to reach adulthood, but it’s at the expense of the child’s true human potential.

Our role is to support our children’s journey on the path of maturation, all the way through the years of adolescence. We need to provide the right context — the right womb, metaphorically — for the birth of our adolescent’s own personhood. This context or womb gives us the ability to influence, guide and strengthen values. It creates a connection at the heart level and frees the spirit of the adolescent.

We need to provide them with times of meaningful involvement with us, so they can feel how important they are to us. We need to listen to their thoughts, ideas and opinions about how they understand the world. We need to initiate quiet walks together, meal times together and warm conversations with each other without the distractions of electronic devices.

We need to nurture this connection and make it easy for our teenagers to continue orienting to us, as they navigate the experiences in their lives that are often characterized by high drama, social confusion and immature perspective.

This vital connection also provides the context for another essential component of becoming an independent-thinking individual: creative solitude. In a world filled with social pressure and the never-ending distraction of smart phones, what’s up, and Facebook, we need to ensure islands of quiet space so our teenagers can explore their own ideas, interests, aspirations and creativity. Emergent energy can spring forth in this context.

We play a pivotal role in determining which path to adulthood our adolescents will travel — the path to true maturation or the path to conformity.

We live in a culture that believes teenagers need to separate from their parents in order to become independent. The opposite is true.

Teenagers have the best chance of becoming truly independent and responsible when they can depend on their parents and other caring adults to provide safe, secure and deep attachment through all the years of growing up.

Parents need to be the compass point

1021857_mother_and_sonIt’s normal to worry about how our children will turn out in the future. Will they accept the values and ideals that we want to pass on to them? Will they follow the path we hope they will take? Is there a formula or method that will assure us of these things?

There are no guarantees, but there are many things we can do to influence the outcome of our parenting. We could dedicate an entire book to this topic, but in this short space, we can highlight one important factor. This factor needs to be considered carefully, because it used to be taken for granted. It was a given in traditional cultures, but in modern society, it is less available.

This factor is the place of parents in their children’s lives.

I’m using the word “place” instead of authority, because “authority” has become overused and misinterpreted. Parents are told to be more authoritative, while at the same time, our culture is severely undermining parental authority.

Here’s one small example of how this happens: A mother recently told me that she met with her son’s teacher, guidance counselor and school psychologist. She wanted to explain that it was important that her son’s teachers develop a caring relationship with him. When she explained to them what her son needed, their response was, “You’re only the mother.”

In other words, “We are the professionals who know best what students need.”

In the past several years, there has been a groundswell of professionals — psychologists, psychiatrists, consultants and therapists — to take care of children’s “problems.” The attitude that professionals can assess and take care of children better than parents has weakened parents’ confidence in themselves as the answer to their children’s psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.

The attachment village, at one time, was more easily available for parents and children. It was the parents’ place to introduce their children to other adults who supported the family’s values. When the parent could depend on these adults, the child could be securely attached to all the adults in his life.

When a child’s attachments are disconnected from each other, the child can’t orient to both his parents and to other adults who serve as the parents’ support system. This also makes it more likely for the child to attach to other children instead of to adults, and then look to these children for direction.

This has a direct impact on our influence to pass on our values and ideals to our children, when they are young and even more so when they are teenagers. The assumption that teenagers need to separate from their parents in order to find their individuality is false, and well-meaning adults easily assume that teenagers need friends more than their parents.

Parents need to be the compass point for their teenagers no less than for their younger children.

Parents can do three things to reclaim their rightful place in the lives of their children:

  1. Assume responsibility to be your child’s compass point, guide, comforter and safe home base. You may not have all the answers, but it is more important to believe that you are the answer for your child, because no one cares as much as you do.
  2. Provide your child with secure and deep attachment, and continue to protect and nurture this relationship during all the years your child is growing up. This will give him the context he needs to internalize your values while he is developing more maturity and finding his own reasons to believe in these values.
  3. Make room for your child to express his own thoughts, ideas, opinions, questions and feelings. This will give him the room he needs within the relationship to become his own person. Listening to him without judgment will open discussions that give you a window into what he is exposed to and what he thinks about it.

This gives you the influence you need while helping him cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood.

Attachment Parenting in shared custody

apm logoWe are in the midst of October, which happens to be Attachment Parenting Month,  and I am wondering what this year’s theme — “Cherishing Parents, Flourishing Children” — means to me?

As I sit with this question, I am reminded of the many times lately that I have found myself in conversations about how people sometimes assume that to practice Attachment Parenting means to give yourself up fully to your child: to exist only for the benefit, safety, love, health and security of your child, for all legal matters in regards custody check out https://lalawknoxville.com now.

Upon learning about Attachment Parenting, I can see exactly why this is what people believe, since many of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting seem different than what our mainstream culture has associated with parenting.

Now I could go into a long discussion about mainstream parenting, Attachment Parenting and how it all came to be, but what I want to focus on is how it might look like in my household and why cherishing the parent is vital so that children can flourish.

Let me begin by telling you that I am a mom who shares custody of my children with their father on a schedule that is as balanced as we could make it. We have been doing this for the past three years, and the time away from my kids is often extremely difficult but also provides an opportunity for me to heal and explore my interests.

I have friends who envy that I have alone time built into the week and other friends who cannot even imagine having days where they would not see their kids.

I also want to mention that my children are hitting the pre-teen years. Next summer, I will have one daughter who is officially a teen and another daughter who has hit double digits. They are growing fast, and I have to cherish all the time I have with them.

lisa fiertagWith everything that is going on in our lives, I know that I am doing the best I can with my girls.

I have beautiful children who are loving, kind and supportive. They engage in activities that interest them, even if I have to push a bit to get them to try something new. My girls have an awareness of who they are and a willingness to navigate more choices, along with the freedom to explore what they like and don’t like.

All of this is possible because their dad and I have encouraged this, no matter how difficult our lives became.

My children are flourishing.

There was a time when I didn’t believe this would be possible, as my family went through years of one crisis after another. We experienced separation and divorce, major life illnesses and the death of a grandparent. Even with all this stress, the one thing that kept us together was our commitment to parenting.

For me, it was a knowing that my girls might need a little extra time with each parent, so canceling activities that took us away from family was vital. Living in a way that allowed for flexibility was also important, as it is not always known what might emotionally set off any one of us. Having stability in these little ways was important.

My girls know that they can be with me, when needed, at any time day or night even if they are with their dad and vice versa. As my girls have grown older, there are times when I know they need to be closer to me and times when a little freedom is desired, which is all part of the flow.

I have found that parenting does not necessarily get easier as our children grow older, but it is different each and every day.

Cherishing myself, as a parent, does help to make things smoother.

When I am not with my girls, I am engaging in activities that help me grow. I tend to spend my time exploring interests that feed my spirit or allow me to relax. Sometimes I just want to sit on my couch in silence and do absolutely nothing.

This all helps me as a parent. When we cherish ourselves and allow for balance in our daily routines, we are creating security and may thrive from these experiences.

As we cherish our time, our individualism and our interests, we grow. As we grow, we become secure parents who are able to be with our children throughout the worst and the best of times. As we cherish our minds, bodies and souls in whatever way calls to us, we are creating and opening space that allows our children to flourish.

What did you do today to cherishing yourself so that your children may flourish?

Teens don’t rebel against parents

“I am now convinced that adolescents do not rebel against parents. They only rebel against certain destructive methods of discipline almost universally employed by parents. Turmoil and dissension in families can be the exception, not the rule, when parents learn to substitute a new method of resolving conflicts.” ~ Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon

stephanie peters familyHow do you feel when you read this quote?

It made me reflect upon my own upbringing, and I agree with the statement. I think if I had had more open, respectful communication with my mother, we would have had a better relationship.

I wanted so much for her to trust me as a person and, at the same time, to feel close to her instead of feeling scared and like she was pushing me away.

I look forward to seeing how the teenage years will play out with my daughter and our family, even though it terrifies me to some extent at the same time based on my own memories of those years.

My daughter and I are very close at this point. At age 10, she keeps saying that she wants to stay close to us, even when she becomes an adult. She wants to live in the neighborhood even. We hope that mentality continues.

PET bookEditor’s note: Join this and other discussions on Goodreads through the API Reads online book club. You can read along in your own copy of Parent Effectiveness Training, or even if don’t yet have the book, you can follow the discussion and take away bits of parenting ideas to try in your home. Learn more about the API Reads program or join for free directly at Goodreads.

 

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