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Have Argument, Will Travel


By Mary Daily

Published Jan 1, 2012 12:00 AM


   Illustration by Daniel Zalkus

Every parent of a teen knows how argumentative adolescents can be. And it's contagious, according to new research from UCLA Psychiatry Professor Andrew Fuligni and colleagues. They have found that arguments with friends at school often cause arguments at home. The reverse is also true — verbal fights at home can carry over to school.

"Adolescents' interactions in the home and with peers shape each other on a daily basis, at least in part, through emotional distress," explains Fuligni, whose work focuses on family relationships and adolescent development among culturally and ethnically diverse populations.

The research showed that adolescents had more arguments with parents or other family members on days when they also had conflicts with their peers, and vice versa. However, the family fights seemed to last longer; family conflict affected peer relationships for the following day and the day after that, while peer conflict affected fights at home only on the following day.

"Adolescents tend to respond with more extreme and negative emotions than do preadolescents or adults, probably because it's the time in their lives when they are experiencing multiple transitions that might be stressful," Fuligni says, citing puberty, dating and changing schools as examples. "Given this tendency, emotional distress might potentially explain this idea of a family-peer spillover of conflict."

The study involved 578 ninth-graders from three Los Angeles public high schools, including 235 from Mexican backgrounds, 172 from Chinese and 171 from European. The subjects completed a questionnaire at school and kept a diary for 14 days. They recorded their emotions and whether various events had occurred that day, including arguments with parents and friends.

Results also indicated that when the teenagers argued with family members, girls experienced more peer conflict than boys, suggesting that family arguments may be more stressful for girls than conflict with friends. And, contrary to what researchers expected, the daily family-peer link was the same across ethnicities.