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Parents often complain that they are weary of arguing with their teenagers. “Everything I say gets an argument!” one mother complained in a recent letter.

A recent study published in Child Development showed that arguing with their mothers can actually help teens fend off peer pressure.

A University of Virginia team headed by Dr. Joseph Allen studied over 150 teenagers and their parents at age 13, 15, and 16 looking at how the teen’s relationships with their family and friends influenced whether they used alcohol or drugs.

Teens who were able to argue with their mothers at age 13 about hot issues like rules, grades, or money were less likely to be involved with alcohol or drugs than their peers at age 16. Those teens who avoided conflict with the mothers and always caved were more like their peers at age 16 as regards substance use.

It seems that teens need practice in being reasonable and persuasive when stating their point of view. Then they are better prepared to resist peer pressure.

In addition teens whose mothers demonstrated high levels of support at age 13 were also better able to resist peer pressure.

Don’t pick a fight with your teen. Don’t give in when it’s a non-negotiable issue but don’t insist on winning all the time either. Instead ask your teen to express his or her feelings because you want to understand the teen point of view on the matter.

And don’t wait until they are teens to show your child lots of support. The best support you can give your child is to respect them and their point of view. Of course a parent must make and enforce rules. But if you talk in a “my way or the highway” pattern instead of encouraging your children to express themselves, they may not be able to express themselves when pressured by peers.

How do children learn how to express themselves? They listen to how their parents talk and argue. They listen to and watch their peers. Parents can help this process by encouraging the children to make choices whenever possible, by asking for their opinions, and for listening to their answers with respect.

When you see a child interacting with a friend in an overbearing way or you read to the child about a kid who has to win all the time, ask the child a, “How would you feel if…” question.

In order to negotiate a child has to have empathy and respect for another’s point of view. This empathy and respect has to be modeled and taught.

By the way the study about the benefits of arguing used mothers because teens were more likely to spend time with their mothers but the authors felt what they found would likely apply to fathers as well. I agree, perhaps more so as fathers may be more authoritarian than mothers.