Family conflict has a key impact on teens’ later relationships

Children learn from conflict in the family. By modeling healthy interactions, parents teach their teens important skills for how to deal with conflict in the future. But if the conflict (parent to parent or parent-child) involves negativity and aggression (e.g., yelling, threatening, spanking, hitting), the environment can harm the child and teen’s general development and their views of how relationships work (e.g., Fosco & Grych, 2008).

“Family conflict in adolescence is associated with unhealthy relationship patterns in emerging adulthood” (Hsieh et al., 2020)

Children learn about relationships at an early age. In attachment theory, this is called a child’s Internal Working Model, or a model of how relationships work and how much a child can trust the world around them. The key to this model, however, is the term “working,” meaning that this model is not fixed in their heads.

Through positive interactions and by watching healthy interactions, children’s internal working models can shift in a positive direction. This idea is also supported by Resiliency Theory, which states that peers and other relationships can help teens and young adults break the negative relationship patterns they’ve learned in high conflict homes.

Read on to see how families can support their teens’ views of relationships.

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How teens learn to repair and resolve family conflict is what matters

Family conflict is a normal part of life, but if it is allowed to escalate, we see detrimental effects on teen development. That’s why learning conflict resolution skills such as effective communication and repair strategies is important. Check out this podcast for more on repair strategies.

Family conflict is normal, but it’s important to teach teens how to repair relationships.

Most of the programs and workshops on family conflict focus on parents of younger children. That’s because the parent-child attachment begins in infancy. But it’s not too late to repair, even if your children are teens. Studies show that a warm, affectionate family environment can help teens feel more secure about relationships, and helping them identify secure relationships outside of the family is also helpful (e.g., Hsieh et al, 2020).

Without intervention, teens from high conflict homes are at risk for continuing unhealthy relationship patterns throughout adulthood. If your family struggles with conflict management, there is hope. As a certified family life educator and coach, I work with families to improve their interactions and build warm, supportive relationships with each other. Reach out for a free consultation today.

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