Kids, especially teenagers, argue with their parents. It’s a part of life and researchers now believe these arguments are a crucial development and learning opportunity. NPR talked to Joseph P. Allen, the key researcher involved in a related study. According to Allen, “those spats can be tamed and, in the process, provide a lifelong benefit to children.”
Researchers from the University of Virginia published the results of their study in the Child Development journal, which Allen led. According to Allen, while almost all parents and teenagers argue, it’s the quality of the those arguments that can benefit the child. They can be mini-life lessons in how to work through conflict.
In the study, researchers videotaped over 150 13-year-olds describing what their biggest argument with their parents was. Afterwards, the tape was played back to both the parents and kids.
As some parents watched, they immediately wanted to have a discussion with their child about the argument. Other parents laughed and others just rolled their eyes. Allen said it was the parents that proactively wanted to talk through the issue that were really helping. “We found that what a teen learned in handling these kinds of disagreements with their parents was exactly what they took into their peer world.”
Allen then interviewed the same kids two to three years later. “The teens who learned to be calm, confident and persuasive with their parents acted the same way when they were with their peers.”
It was a very different result for those kids whose parents didn’t use the argument as a learning opportunity. They were found to easily back down to their parents and this same lack of confidence carried through to their peer group. The thinking was that this group might succumb more easily to peer pressure.
Clinical Psychologist, Kelly M. Flanagan, encourages parents to teach their kids to say no. Children should challenge their parents and peers with respect, not as a temper tantrum. They should communicate when the time is appropriate and understand that there may be consequences for their actions. There also is an element of compromise, as life is never as easy as saying yes or no.
Our families are where we first learn how to say no in a safe, supportive environment. If we don’t learn to do so there, we won’t learn to do so anywhere. If our children can’t say no to us, they won’t say it to anyone.
Flanagan adds “Do children need to learn to set boundaries assertively rather than aggressively? Yes. Do they need to learn the art of compromise? Definitely. Do they need to learn to wisely choose moments of submission? Absolutely. But all of that learning begins with a no.”
So whats the bottom line?
Kids who learned how to effectively argue with their parents created a defense against negative peer pressure. Teens that had more conversations with their parents, also had more confidence and were more honest with their friends.
The most important conclusion was that teens should be rewarded and encouraged to argue in a calm and persuasive manner instead of yelling and screaming.