Adolescents’ well-being can improve when conflicts with their father are adequately explained – by mom, a friend or even dad himself, according to a new study.
Researchers from the San Francisco State University found that when a teen is having an argument with his or her father and seeks out others for help, the response he or she receives is linked to better well-being and father-child relationships.
Adolescents who receive a reason for the father’s behaviour or a better understanding of who is at fault feel better about themselves and about dad as well.
Those feelings about dad, in turn, are linked to a lower risk of depression for youth, researchers said.
The study is the first to explore the intricacies of what Jeff Cookston, a professor and chair of the psychology department who has done extensive studies on fatherhood, calls “guided cognitive reframing.”
Previous research looked at who adolescents sought out for reframing and why; this study takes that research a step further.
“There has been a lot of evidence suggesting that talking to people about conflict is a good thing for adolescents. What we did for the first time was look at what actually happens when they talk to someone,” Cookston said.
Cookston and his colleagues surveyed 392 families about adolescents’ conflicts with their co-resident fathers and stepfathers.
Parents and children were asked who was sought out for support and how frequently; how often those individuals explained the fathers’ behaviour or blamed the fathers for the conflict; and how the adolescents felt about themselves and their fathers after the reframing.
Mothers were the most sought-out source for reframing, followed by a non-parental figure – a friend, for example, or a non-parental family member.
Next were biological fathers and, lastly, stepfathers. But how often adolescents seek out a specific source for support does not have an impact on their well-being, the study showed.
Instead, it is the quality of the reframing – whether an explanation is provided for dad’s behaviour or whether responsibility for the conflict is assigned – that drives how they feel following the conversation.
“When kids get explanations and good reasons that fit with the world they see, it helps them feel better,” Cookston said.
“It’s sometimes hard to change how adolescents feel about situations, but we can talk to them about how they think about those situations,” he said.