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The disappearing generation gap

Parents and kids today dress alike, listen to the same music, and are friends. Is this a good thing?

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Sometimes, when Tom Krattenmaker and his 16-year-old daughter, Holland, listen to rock music together and talk about pop culture – interests they both enjoy – he recalls his more-distant relationship with his parents when he was a teenager.

"I would never [have said] to my mom, 'Hey, the new Weezer album is really great – how do you like it?' " says Mr. Krattenmaker, of Yardley, Pa. "There was just a complete gap in sensibility and taste, a virtual gulf."

Music was not the only gulf. From clothing and hairstyles to activities and expectations, earlier generations of parents and children often appeared to revolve in separate orbits.

Today, the generation gap has not disappeared, but it is shrinking in many families. The old authoritarian approach to discipline – a starchy "Because I said so, that's why" – is giving way to a new egalitarianism and a "Come, let us reason together" attitude.

The result can be a rewarding closeness among family members. Conversations that would not have taken place a generation ago – or that would have been awkward, on subjects such as sex and drugs – now are comfortable and common. And parent-child activities, from shopping to sports, involve an easy camaraderie that can continue into adulthood.

No wonder greeting cards today carry the message, "To my mother, my best friend."

But family experts caution that the new equality can also have a downside, diminishing respect for parents.

"There's still a lot of strict, authoritarian parenting out there, but there is a change happening," says Kerrie Laguna, a mother of two young children and a psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. "In the middle of that change, there is a lot of confusion among parents."

Family researchers offer a variety of reasons for these evolving roles and attitudes. They see the 1960s as a benchmark. Dramatic cultural shifts led to more open communication and a more democratic process that encourages everyone to have a say.

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