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Chinese Mothers and Adolescents' Views of Parent-Adolescent Conflict and the Quality of Their Relationship ---- A study of parent-adolescent relationship in urban and rural China


This present study examined potential differences between Chinese mothers and their adolescent children, between urban and rural areas, and between single-child and multiple-children families regarding their beliefs about parental authority and individual autonomy as reflected in their reasoning about daily parent-adolescent conflicts and the quality of their relationship. 85 mothers and 85 adolescents (30 dyads from urban single-child families, 27 from urban multiple-children families, and 28 from rural multiple-children families) in China participated this study and were interviewed individually. They described actual parent-adolescent conflicts, rated their frequency and intensity, justified their perspectives on disputes, and described how conflicts were resolved. In addition, adolescent participants listed issues they would or would not discuss with their parents, and mother participants listed issues they thought their children would discus with them or withhold from them. Finally, each participant rated the sense of closeness regarding parent-adolescent relationship, and described their perspectives on what child and parents should improve for an ideal parent-adolescent relationship.

Altogether 20 categories of actual daily conflicts and 21 categories of quality of parent-children relationship were examined for potential regional, sibling status, and role differences. Major regional differences were found as follows: (1) compared to their rural counterparts, urban adolescents reported a larger number of conflicts, used more moral justifications and fewer personal ones for conflicts; (2) compared to rural mothers, urban mothers reported more conflicts over adolescents' interpersonal relationships, and used more conventional justifications for conflicts.

Major sibling status differences included: (1) children from multiple-children families reported more conflicts over parents' problems than those from single-child families; and (2) when answering in which areas parents should improve, mothers of multiple-children families expressed more concerns in the psychological area than those of single-child families.

As for the role differences, adolescents and mothers in this study differed significantly in almost every aspect of their beliefs about parental authority and individual autonomy as reflected in their reasoning about daily parent-adolescent conflicts (17 out of 20 categories) and the quality of their relationship (12 out of 21 categories). Across urban and rural areas, regardless of sibling status, Chinese adolescents desire freedom, independence, and individuality, just as adolescents of diverse ethnicities in the USA (Fuligni, 1998; Smetana, 1996). Moreover, the present study showed that, although Chinese adolescents and mothers differed significantly in viewing parent-child conflicts and the quality of their relationship, they all believed that psychological improvements, mostly pertaining to interpersonal communication (Goutong), would be a crucial step for a better parent-child relationship.

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