A new study finds that teenagers can face negative mood and psychological issues for two days after a problematic incident at home or school. Researchers found family conflict and problems at school tend to occur together on the same day.
Moreover, the aftermath of the event sometimes spills over in both directions to the next day, with family conflict increasing the likelihood of problems at school and vice versa.
Researchers from the University of Southern California have published their findings in the journal Child Development.
The kinds of problems that spill over from home and school include arguments between teens and their parents, doing poorly on a quiz or test, cutting class, having difficulty understanding coursework, and not finishing assignments.
“Spillover processes have been recognized but are not well understood,” according to Adela C. Timmons, a doctoral student, and Dr. Gayla Margolin, a professor of psychology.
“Evidence of spillover for as long as two days suggests that some teens get caught in a reverberating cycle of negative events.”
The study also found that teens’ negative mood might be a way that problems are transmitted across areas (for example, failing a test might lead to irritability, which in turn could lead to conflict with parents).
In addition, mental health symptoms may put adolescents at risk for intensified spillover. Teens with more symptoms of anxiety and depression showed stronger associations between conflict with parents and same-day negative mood.
Researchers designed a study to capture the day-to-day variability in adolescents’ experiences of family conflict and school problems.
Study objectives were accomplished by asking more than a hundred 13- to 17-year-olds and their mothers and fathers to complete questions at the end of each day for 14 days. The families represented a range of races and ethnicities, and a range of incomes.
All three family members reported on family conflict during the day that was ending, and teens also reported on their mood and their school experiences on the same day. Adolescents also completed one-time questionnaires of symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and externalizing problems.
Researchers believe the study findings will help professionals develop interventions to help teens better handle their negative moods.
A better understanding of the emotional spillover that can occur after a conflict or problem could improve teens’ relationships with family as well as how they do academically.