A new study examines how arguments at home with teens may affect things at school and how arguments with friends may cause arguments at home.
Psychologist Dr. Andrew Fuligni and his colleagues found that adolescents experienced more arguments with parents or other family members on days in which conflicts with peers took place, and vice versa.
Family fights seemed to last longer as well; the effect of family conflict spilled over into peer relationships the next day and two days later, while peer conflict only affected fights at home on the following day.
The findings are reported in the September–October edition of the journal Child Development.
“Every parent of a teen knows these years can get a little emotional,” said Fuligni. “So when disagreements occur, we wanted to know if there was a transmission of negative emotions between the two groups.
“Adolescents tend to respond with more extreme and negative emotions than do pre-adolescents or adults, probably because it’s the time in their lives when they are experiencing multiple transitions that might be stressful,” he said, citing such things as puberty, dating and changing schools as examples.
“Given this tendency among adolescents, emotional distress might potentially explain this idea of a family-peer spillover of conflict.”
During the study, researchers recruited 578 ninth-grade students from three public high schools in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Ethnicities were mixed: 235 adolescents were from Mexican backgrounds, 172 from Chinese and 171 from European backgrounds.
Students completed an initial background questionnaire at school and then completed a diary checklist at the end of each day for 14 days. In it, they recorded their emotions and whether various events had occurred that day, including arguing with parents and friends.
An interesting finding was the discovery that in addition to the emotional spillover between the two groups, the effect of family conflict persisted longer than that of peer conflict.
In addition, on days when teenagers argued with parents or other family members, girls experienced more peer conflict than boys. This, the researchers said, suggests that arguing with parents or other family members, as opposed to friends, may be a distinctly more stressful event for girls during this period.
Finally, and contrary to the researcher’s expectation, the daily family-peer link operated the same across ethnicities.
“The bottom line,” said Fuligni, “is that adolescents’ interactions in the home and with peers shape each other on a daily basis, at least in part through emotional distress.”