Now researchers from Pennsylvania and Washington state universities participating in the Penn State Family Relationships Project report in the July/August journal Child Development that it takes more than simply asking questions. The research, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, found that the best way to acquire knowledge about your teenagers' experiences is to be in a relationship in which your teen openly shares with you, and in which you know your child well enough to notice subtle cues.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers conducted home interviews with 179 two-parent families with 16-year-olds. They asked parents how much they relied on each of six different possible sources to remain informed about their children: teenager self-disclosures, questions from parent, parental listening and observing, spouse keeping the other parent informed, siblings keeping the parent informed, or others outside the family (parents of child's friends, coaches, etc.) keeping the parent informed.
Overall, the researchers identified three main groups: relational, in which the parent relied on relationship communication (e.g., teenager self-discloses; parent listens and observes) to stay knowledgeable; "relies on others," in which the parent relied on others outside the family for information; and a third group composed of fathers who relied on their wives for information and mothers who stood out because they asked their teenager questions.
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