Parent-Teen Arguments Can Actually Be Healthy for Adolescents


A recent article in the New York Times highlights how certain conflict resolution styles can benefit a teen. During adolescence, parent-teen arguments are likely going to happen. However, a parent can respond to their teen in a certain way that elicit problem-solving skills, empathy, and seeing conflict from multiple perspectives.


The article points out that researchers have been able to identify four different arguing styles in teens. These are:

  • attacking
  • withdrawing
  • complying
  • problem solving

Those teens with the first two conflict management styles are most likely to experience mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. And research reveals that those teens who tend to comply in arguments with their parents are most likely to experience mood disorders, such as bipolar. And those teens who have difficulty resolving conflict among their parents might also have trouble doing so with friends and in relationships later in life.


However, teens who have the ability to problem solve when faced with conflict tend to be those who are psychologically healthy. And coincidentally, learning to see circumstances from a variety of perspectives, which can facilitate problem solving skills, is a skill that teens are just beginning to develop. If parents can hone this skill for their teen, they might also be facilitating healthier relationships for their teen too.


For instance, when a parent is faced with request  by their teen that is unrealistic, such as borrowing the car after 10pm, a parent might ask the teen to provide an explanation for their request. A parent might also ask a teen how they – the parent – might feel about this request, and the dangers involved. Rather than adamantly saying no and refusing to talk to teens, inviting their input, understanding, and problem solving skills can strengthen their conflict resolution skills.


It’s possible that this approach might also help teens who experience Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Research has found that those teens with these psychological illnesses tend to have greater conflicts with their parents. The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology recently published a research study revealing that parents and teens with ADHD/ODD had significantly more issues in their relationship. There was more anger during conflicts, more negative communication in general, and used more aggressive tactics with each other compared to those in the community control group.


Furthermore, this approach might also strengthen the communication between parents and teens. In a recent survey regarding teen use of the Internet, it was found that teens whose parents spoke to them “a lot” had more positive experiences and had fewer risks to their health both online and off. These teens reported:

  • greater concern about their health and personal investment in keeping themselves safe.
  • greater concern about online safety and sharing of personal information and photos
  • less use of drugs and alcohol especially if their parents encouraged abstinence and communicated the dangers of substance use
  • more limited sharing of information and pictures via the Internet
  • fewer incidences of public online profiles
  • fewer incidences of talking or meeting people they only know from online sources


It seems that arguments between parents and teens could in fact be the venue for teens to learn new skills, strengthen their communication skills, and feel the support of their parents.