Hey Son, Have Time for a Fight?-River City Counseling

As much as we cringe at the thought of how argumentative kids can get as they enter their teenage years, a recent University of Virginia study shows that these arguments with you kids may serve a very important purpose.  The following article comes from a June 17, 2012, on-line, Gannett paper.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Though parents have been teaching their children not to argue with adults for generations, new research from the University of Virginia shows that young teenagers who are taught to argue effectively are more likely to resist peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol later in adolescence.

“It turns out that what goes on in the family is actually a training ground for teens in terms of how to negotiate with other people,” said Joseph Allen, a UVa psychology professor and the lead author of the study, results of which were published in a recent edition of the journal Child Development.

Allen said that parents are often “scared to death about peer pressure,” but also frustrated by argumentative children. “What we’re finding is there’s a surprising connection between the two,” he said. Allen noted that teens “learn they can be taken seriously” through interactions with their parents.

“Sometimes, it can be counterintuitive to tell parents to let their teens argue with them,” said Joanna Chango, a clinical psychology graduate student at UVa who worked on the study. In fact, learning effective argumentation skills can help teenagers learn to “assert themselves and establish a sense of autonomy,” she said.

The study, part of a larger longitudinal study, observed 150 13-year-olds engaging in arguments, and then polled the same participants three years later about their experiences with drugs and alcohol.

At 13, the teenagers were tape-recorded summarizing disagreements between themselves and their mothers. The recordings were then replayed for the mothers to hear.

“Usually, it’s sort of an ongoing disagreement they have that they haven’t been able to resolve,” Chango said, adding that topics ranged from household rules to grades to monthly allowances.

Once the discussion was reopened, Chango said researchers filmed the teens and their mothers for eight minutes. Teenagers who displayed “confidence” and used reason to back up their statements were more likely to have refused drugs or alcohol when polled by researchers three years later, Chango said.

Chango recommended parents teach children how to convey their thoughts and emotions during conflicts, which in turn teaches children to stand up to negative influences.

“We sort of see this as a transition of skills,” Chango explained. “Even if their viewpoints don’t line up . the teen is going to be able to take those skills into other environments,” Chango added.

She also noted that it is important for parents to listen to their children’s concerns during a conflict.

Parents of teenagers should teach by example and model good discussion practices for their children, Allen said.

He added that parents should be firm and prove to teenagers that providing “good reasons presented in a moderate way” is more effective than whining or hostile behavior such as slamming doors.

“If they’re able to learn how to be confident and persuasive with their parents, then they’ll be able to hopefully do the same with their peers,” Chango said.

4 Responses to Hey Son, Have Time for a Fight?-River City Counseling
  1. Donna Aceves
    July 14, 2012 | 2:28 pm

    Thank you for this article. I think it can be another useful reframe for how to help teenagers and parents negotiate through a rocky developmental period in their lives. It is a good beginning. While the article mentioned what the parents must do- listen, I think there needed to be more of how to help parents provide a safe and collaborative experience for their teens as they learn how to develop that confidence.
    Thanks again,

  2. Ilissa Banhazl, MFT
    July 16, 2012 | 6:10 pm

    Good point. Children learn what they see! Ilissa Banhazl, MFT Glendora

  3. Gail Van Buuren
    July 19, 2012 | 12:42 am

    Very good points. My training as a Positive Discipline Parenting teacher has helped me use family meetings in family sessions to coach and model good communication skills and problem solving skills between parents and teens. It does provide that safe and collaborative experience Donna mentions in her response, and it shifts the focus in families away from the problems and towards the relationships. Thanks, Steve.

  4. David
    December 29, 2014 | 9:55 pm

    As a substitute teacher I see kids making bad decisions all the time. Now that I have a child of my own I routinely ask her questions and have her make decisions. I think kids struggle to go against the grain and think for themselves. One of the best things teachers can do is help children to think on their own to feet and not for somebody else.

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