A grounded theory exploration of the experience of time in parent-adolescent relationships

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Ashbourne, Lynda M.

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University of Guelph


This research study explores the nature of time in parent-adolescent relationships. Findings are based on 20 conjoint family interviews of mothers, fathers and their 16-19 year old sons or daughters. These family members were residing together at the time of the interviews, and living in southern Ontario communities. A grounded theory methodology was utilized to construct a substantive theory of family time patterns and the experience of time within the parent-adolescent relationship. The key themes to emerge from this analysis were as follows: changing time patterns during adolescence allow for increased time apart along with shared family time; choice is exercised by parents and adolescents with respect to how time is spent; and complex, reciprocal relationship processes between parents and adolescents regarding the negotiation of time influence the construction of trust, freedom and responsibility in their relationships. A substantive theory of the experience of time in parent-adolescent relationships is generated based on these emergent themes. Taking a central position in this theory is the choice that is exercised by parents and adolescents with respect to time. Parents and adolescents use time spent together and apart to make important changes in their relationships and for themselves. Adolescents develop autonomy, gain freedom and take on responsibility by making time choices and negotiating time with their parents. Parents make choices about their availability and control over adolescents' time that influence adolescent independence and contribute to their own changing role in the family. Choices about time allow for the maintenance of connection as well as the introduction of change. The negotiation of time, and the expression of choice and control, are contained and expressed through complex mutual influences between parents and adolescents within a context of dialectical tensions related to autonomy/separation, stability/change, expression/non-expression and freedom/responsibility. This substantive theory extends and supports the existing limited research in the area of parent-adolescent relationships and family time. This study contains theoretical implications for advancing our ideas about "family time" in the context of adolescence, methodological implications for research that incorporates multiple voices, and clinical implications of including a temporal lens in working with parents and adolescents.



Parent, Adolescent, Relationships, Experience of time, Interviews