As young people move into adolescence, peers become more important and influential, but much more difficult for parents to monitor. Most of what parents know about peers comes from what their child voluntarily discloses. How do teens decide what information to share with parents? What difference does disclosure make to teens’ general well-being and success with peers? How do parents seek information about peers? Our studies address these issues.
Right to Know Study
We identify teens’ perceptions of the major facets of peer relations and then examine their attitudes about what parents have a right to know in each facet. We assess how right-to-know attitudes shape adolescents’ decisions about what to disclose to parents about peers. We test whether these attitudes mediate the relationship between disclosure and such predictors as adolescents’ level of peer involvement, degree of prosocial and antisocial behavior, and quality of relationships with parents.
- Generally, as adolescents grow older they believe parents have less of a right to know about facets of their peer relationships. Also, parents tend to believe they have more of a right to know about peers than their children do (see Brown, Bakken, Nguyen, & Von Bank, 2007)
- The quality of mother-child relationships and level of antisocial behavior are strong influences on adolescents’ attitudes of what parents have a right to know (Chan & Brown, in prep.).
- Right-to-know attitudes fully mediate the relationship between factors potentially affecting disclosure and the information about peers that adolescents actually disclose to parents.
Teen Norms about Disclosure
Generally speaking, studies suggest that the more information adolescents disclose to parents about their lives, the better that adolescent is doing psychologically and socially. But there may be good reasons for teens to limit the information that they share with parents, especially about peer relationships. How do adolescents factor peer norms about disclosure into their decisions about sharing information with parents?
Issues we want to explore:
- What are peer norms about telling parents about peer issues? How consistent are these norms across age, gender, and ethnic background?
- How do teens balance their promises to maintain the confidences of close friends against their parents’ desire to be informed about peer relationships?
- What strategies do teens employ to maintain trust in both parent and peer relationships?
Our intensive interviews with teens indicate that teens use several strategies in communicating with parents about peers. Sometimes they simply tell everything (full disclosure), but more often they only share part of the story. Non-disclosure strategies also vary, from trying to avoid a topic to outright lying. We examine when and why teens use various strategies, along with how age, ethnicity, and the quality of parent-child relations affect strategy use.
- Adolescents were pragmatic in decisions about disclosing information, avoiding as much as possible having to lie to parents but also avoiding full disclosure (see Bakken & Brown, 2010).
- Although ethnic groups did not differ in their disclosure strategies, their justifications for what they shared with parents were rooted in more ethnic-specific cultural and family experiences (see Bakken & Brown, 2010).