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Intimate talk between parents and their teenage children : democratic openness or covert control?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date11/2002
JournalSociology
Journal number4
Volume36
Number of pages19
Pages965-983
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In so far as modern families subscribe to an ideal of democracy, then adolescence is a time in which the democratic ideal in the family becomes an object of explicit focus as parents and teenagers strive towards a renegotiation of their relative positions. Teenagers need to develop their adult identities and a sense of agency, while at the same time, parents who have invested both personally and financially in their children must reconsider this relationship and come to terms with the reality of the returns from that investment. Intimate relations imply both democracy and equality: in what Giddens (1992) calls the ‘pure relationship’, individuals continuously reevaluate the relationship in terms of the satisfactions which it delivers in their ‘project of the self’. This paper argues that the twin ideals of democracy and intimacy necessarily clash in parent-teenager relationships, resulting in a further complication of the negotiation processes already identified in previous research (Brannen, 1999; Brannen et al., 1994; Hofer et al., 1999).While both parents and their teenage children subscribe to the discourse of openness and honesty as the route to both intimacy and democracy, there are tensions within the concept of openness because both parties have opposing goals in the trading of information. For parents, information gain means the retention of power and control, while for teenagers, with-holding information from their parents ensures their privacy, power and identity.