Teens, step-parents at odds
Paul, Nick, Brynn and Michelle Lakey at home in Floreat. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

An overwhelming majority of teenagers are happy with the relationships they have with their parents but less than 50 per cent of stepchildren are satisfied with their step-parent, research has found.

Contrary to the stereotype of broody teens warring with parents, an Australian Institute of Family Studies report reveals that 72 per cent of teenagers between 15 and 17 years old were highly satisfied with their relationship with their parents, rating them eight or above on a scale of zero to 10.

But when it came to stepfamilies, only 48 per cent of boys and 38 per cent of girls were highly satisfied with their step-parent.

AIFS assistant director of research, Ruth Weston, said there were many complexities in stepfamilies.

"In times past, you typically became a step-parent when a biological parent died," she said.

"However, these days it's more likely to come about through separation and re-partnering, so children may have one or two step-parents. Family relationships are more complex than in the past.

"Whether a new partner is seen as a step-parent may vary not only across families but also within a family.

"These dynamics can be especially complicated for adolescents who find themselves moving between households and having to balance these new relationships along with different household rules and approaches to parenting."

The research also showed just 42 per cent of stepmothers were highly satisfied with their relationship with stepchildren while 57 per cent of stepfathers expressed high satisfaction about their relationship with their stepchildren.

Among biological parents, 82 per cent of mothers were highly satisfied compared with 71 per cent of fathers.

Floreat couple Paul and Michelle Lakey, parents to three sons aged 23, 16 and 14, said their household was usually harmonious, with most disagreements settled through compromise.

"We have always tried to treat them like adults and discuss differences of opinion rationally," Mr Lakey said.

"I remember what it was like to be their age so we try to negotiate most things."

Middle child Brynn said most arguments with his parents centred on curfews and parties.

"I'm actually really close to my parents," he said.

"We mainly fight about minor issues so I guess I'm satisfied - I'd rate them above eight out of 10."

The report also found the average family size has decreased, with the proportion of households with three, four or more children falling.

The percentage of older mothers, aged 45-54, has steadily increased in the past two decades. 'I remember what it was like to be their age so we try to negotiate most things.'" Father Paul Lakey

The West Australian

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