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Survey Results: How Do Parents and Kids Get Along?

How well do kids and parents get along? Most say pretty well, but relationships can start to fray as children get older, according to a survey done by KidsHealth.org and TIME for Kids

First, the good news. The online survey of 900 parents and 9,000 kids found that:

  • 85% of kids said they have fun with their parents.
  • 84% of parents said they have fun with their kids.
  • 79% of kids said they feel close to their parents.
  • 77% of parents said they feel close to their kids. 

But the survey also found some sharp differences between younger and older kids. Older kids (12–14) were less likely than younger kids (8–11) to say that they:

  • get along well with their parents
  • have fun with their parents
  • share good news with a parent
  • feel comfortable going to a parent with a problem
  • feel close to their parents 

Parents of older kids agreed, with 12% reporting that they didn’t feel close to their kids. Among parents of 8- to 11-year-olds, only 6% said they didn’t feel close. 

Compared with younger kids, older kids were also less likely to report that their parents:

  • are there for them in good times and bad
  • expect good things of them
  • are proud of them

Among younger kids, 75% said their parents are proud of them. But that number dropped to only 58% among kids ages 12–14. Again, parents mirrored this shift, though not as dramatically. Among parents of younger kids, 87% said they were proud of their kids. Among parents of 12- to 14-year-olds, 78% said they were proud of their children. 

A lack of parental pride seemed to go along with other negative feelings. The kids who felt their parents were not proud of them were far more likely to say they: 

  • argue often with parents
  • lie a lot
  • yell at each other when they disagree
  • stay angry a long time after an argument
  • do not feel close to their parents

You might wonder if it’s just natural for older kids to pull away from parents. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“The relationship quality does not have to decline, even though it’s normal and healthy for young adolescents to begin to separate from parents and become more independent,” says D’Arcy Lyness, a child psychologist who helped develop the survey and analyze the results. 

It’s true that as kids get older, they want more freedom and independence. Meanwhile, parents are trying to get them to develop important qualities like responsibility and accountability. But those shifts don’t have to lead to frequent arguments and less closeness. Parents can adjust to the changing conditions.

Staying close to your kids feels good, but it also does them a lot of good, research has consistently shown. When kids and teens have a strong positive relationship with a parent, they are more likely to be resilient — able to roll with life’s ups and downs. 

And higher resilience predicts:

Parents can take steps to protect the quality of their relationship with their children — while allowing for the normal shift to increased independence and separation. To stay close to your kids, try these five tips: 

  1. Believe in your kids and expect good things from them. Encourage their strengths and praise their efforts when they work hard. Support them when they feel like giving up. 
  2. Give praise for true accomplishments. Praise builds kids up, but it works best when it’s specific and deserved. Broaden your view of what warrants praise. Applaud your child for working hard, making progress, and sticking to difficult tasks. 
  3. Be there for your kids in good times and bad. You know that you’re supposed to be there for kids in tough times, but also encourage them to tell you when good things happen. Share your happy moments with them, too. 
  4. Argue less and find better ways to talk over disagreements. How can you set firm, clear limits and expectations — but do it without anger, lectures, threats, ultimatums, or “lay-down-the law” authoritarian approaches? Step 1 is to try not to yell. It’s not an effective discipline strategy. Step 2 is to accept that more conflict is likely as kids get older. (You are trying to hold them accountable and encourage them to be responsible. Meanwhile, they are looking for more freedom and independence.) Step 3 is to find common ground, when possible. It’s natural to focus on what you expect and want. You’re the parent after all. But let kids know you are trying to understand what they want and need, too.
  5. Have fun together. As kids get older, they spend less time with parents and more time with friends and activities. That’s normal and healthy. But look for ways to stay connected by having a good time together. Have your kids outgrown the activities you once shared? Find new ways to enjoy shared time. Take a walk, see a movie, play a sport, cook together, build things, do crafts. Shared activities also allow kids a chance to bring up problems or concerns. 

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2016

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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