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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Winning by Losing: Why Teaching Teens to Argue is a Good Thing

By Roy Benaroch, MD

Parents of teenagers may not realize it, but all of that arguing may serve a useful purpose. Teens need to learn to convince others that they’re right—not only as a useful adult skill, but also to help them remain steadfast in their own beliefs. Teaching that skill best means that parents shouldn’t always insist on “winning” every argument.

A December 2011 study published in the journal Child Development looked at factors that helped teenagers become more or less influenced by peer pressure to use illegal drugs. One interesting finding: teenagers who could successfully argue with their mothers were less likely to follow peers who encouraged them to use drugs.

Summarized here, the study authors wrote that children need to learn to stand up for their beliefs and to argue persuasively and calmly. Arguing with family turns out to be important practice for teenagers to communicate with their peers. Though the study specifically looked at interactions with mothers, the authors feel that their findings would be the same with fathers as well. Young teenagers who backed down and were less persistent in their arguments were less assertive when they disagreed with their peers later, and more likely to give in to pressure to use drugs.

There were other observations from the study about resisting peer pressure. The teens who were most successful in resisting pressure to use drugs tended to be those who had more autonomy when younger, as well as more social support from their parents. Having a close friend who was popular also seemed to be protective—meaning that teens who were more at the fringes of social cliques were more likely to use drugs.

Raising a teenager means helping to teach them mature skills they need as an adult. They’re not supposed to stay always obedient or always subservient. Successful adults are confident and self-reliant. Remember that next time your teenager yells back.

Posted by: Roy Benaroch, MD, FAAP at 1:45 pm

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