Dec. 22, 2011 at 12:52 PM ET
If your teen keeps arguing with you, don’t worry – it may do her good in the long run.
Researchers found adolescents who can hold their own in a dispute with mom – rather than quickly caving -- are less likely to be pressured by friends into drinking and doing drugs, according to a new report in the journal Child Development.
While it can be challenging to calmly discuss sensitive subjects, a measured give-and-take can provide teens with the tools they need to bat away peer pressure, said study co-author Joanna Chango, a graduate student at the University of Virginia.
Chango and her colleagues followed 157 13-year-olds and their parents for three years. At the beginning of the study the researchers ran two experiments with the teens and their moms.
In the first, while being videotaped in a room alone together with their moms, the teens were told to try to bring up a topic that the pair had been arguing about. Later on, the researchers graded the way that the teens and their moms interacted.
The pairs got good grades if the conversation was calm and civil and went on for the allotted 8 minutes. If the teen rapidly gave up, the grade was low.
“If the mother and teen are arguing and the teen backs down and gives in easily it’s a sign of a teen not able to assert autonomy,” Chango explained. “The point is for each to feel that they are being heard and they are using arguments and reasoning to have a calm back and forth.”
In the second experiment, the teens were told to bring up a topic that they needed help with. “Those conversations ran the gamut from problems in school to trouble with a friend,” Chango said.
The idea in this second experiment was to see whether the moms were supportive.
When the kids turned 15, the researchers returned and asked the teens to fill out drug and alcohol use questionnaires. A year later, the kids filled out the questionnaires once again.
As it turns out, the teens who were able to hold their own in discussions with their moms were better able to fend off peer pressures to use drugs and alcohol. Those who seemed best protected were the ones who were able to argue well about touchy topics such as grades, household rules, friends and money.
Another big factor was having a supportive mom, the researchers found. The researchers didn’t study dads, but expect to see the same effect.