After family quarrels, who do teens turn to?

April 24, 2012 by Elaine Bible

(Medical Xpress) -- When a teenager has an argument with their father, who do they seek out to talk through the situation? Do they turn to mom or dad? Associate Professor of Psychology Jeff Cookston explored this question in his latest study.

Associate Professor of Psychology Jeff Cookston"We found that the more warm and available parents are to their children, the more likely their kids are to talk to them about a conflict," said Cookston, whose study focused on how young people cope with conflicts with their fathers.

Conflict in families has been linked to anxiety, distress and behavioral problems in young people. Cookston is interested in how confiding in others helps children make sense of disagreements in the family and ultimately how those conversations shape children's emotions, well-being and behavior.

"If you talk things through with someone rather than sitting on your feelings, maybe conflict, in and of itself, isn't that bad," he said.

Cookston and his colleagues surveyed almost 400 families and asked parents and children about their relationship, their and how much time they spend together. Half of the families were of Mexican descent and half were European Americans.

"What was interesting is that the same pattern of support-seeking held up regardless of and regardless of whether children were in a family with a stepdad or a ," Cookston said.

Parental acceptance was a key affecting whether a chooses to seek out either parent for advice and support after a . Cookston says this acceptance includes , telling your kids you are proud of them, and accepting them for who they are.

For fathers, specifically, kids were more likely to discuss a conflict with him if they already had an established pattern of confiding in their dad.

"As a parent, if you want to be sought out when the going gets tough, you have to have spent time cultivating that kind of relationship," Cookston said.

The results also found that the quality of the parents' marriage impacts who children turn to. "If mom and dad aren't on the same page, a child is less likely to talk to mom about a conflict with dad."

This latest study is part of Cookston's ongoing research at the Family Interaction Research Lab at SF State. It was published in March in the journal New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development and is online available at

Explore further: Parents' conflicts affect adopted infants' sleep

Related Stories

Parents' conflicts affect adopted infants' sleep

August 2, 2011

When parents fight, infants are likely to lose sleep, researchers report. "We know that marital problems have an impact on child functioning, and we know that sleep is a big problem for parents," said Jenae M. Neiderhiser, ...

Recommended for you

First language wires brain for later language-learning

December 1, 2015

You may believe that you have forgotten the Chinese you spoke as a child, but your brain hasn't. Moreover, that "forgotten" first language may well influence what goes on in your brain when you speak English or French today.

Anxiety can kill your social status

December 1, 2015

Neuroscientists at EPFL identify a brain region that links anxious temperament to low social status. The researchers were able to tweak social hierarchy in animals by using vitamin B3.

Watching eyes prevent littering

December 1, 2015

People are less likely to drop litter if it has printed eyes on it, researchers at Newcastle University, UK, have found. An image of watching eyes reduced the odds of littering by around two thirds.

How can I tell if she's lying?

November 27, 2015

Sarcasm, white lies and teasing can be difficult to identify for those with certain disorders – new video inventory developed at McGill may help


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.