Do you have an opinionated, outspoken teen in your house? If so, here's a good reason to encourage your child's inner debater. According to researchers at the University of Virginia, teens who openly express their own views with their moms - whether or not they see eye-to-eye on the issues - are more likely than other teens to resist peer pressure to drink or use drugs.

In a study of over 150 teens and their parents, researchers found that teens who argue effectively with their mothers on issues like grades, household rules, and allowance money are best able to stand firm against negative peer influences to use drugs and alcohol. It seems that engaging in healthy debates at the dinner table may actually prepare teens to be more assertive and independent outside the home.

Of course, there's a difference between arguing well and just being argumentative.

The teens that fared best were those who have learned to use rational, reasonable arguments to make a point, not those who've engaged in rude behavior or whining to get their way. The ability to express opinions and beliefs effectively and respectfully is the key. It is believed that these communication skills will likely serve teens well - whether they're negotiating for a higher allowance or letting a classmate know they don't want to experiment with drugs.

And there's another important finding in this study.

Researchers discovered that teens with positive relationships with parents and peers were more likely to stand up to negative peer influences than teens without these close ties.

As a parent, there are things you can do to encourage your teen to assert opinions effectively and strengthen family bonds.

Here are some suggestions:

–Create a "talk to me" atmosphere. Let your teen know he can come to you and talk about anything, even if it's something you don't necessarily agree about. Be an active listener and send the message - through your words and actions -- that even when you don't agree, you respect your child's right to express his feelings and opinions.

–Set an example. One of the most meaningful ways your teen will learn to express opinions effectively is by watching you. When you set a limit, express an opinion, or even disagree with a family member or friend, be sure to model respectful communication. How? Listen to the opinions of others, even if you don't agree with them. Don't yell or threaten to make a point. Offer reasoned arguments rather than a "my way or the highway" approach.

–Nurture independence. As your child grows, offer age-appropriate opportunities to make independent decisions and develop a sense of autonomy. When appropriate, provide choices and leeway regarding issues like what style of clothing to wear, what extra-curricular activities he pursues, and what type of music he listens to.

–Be willing to compromise. As parents, it's ultimately up to you to decide which issues are open to compromise and which ones aren't. The key is to find some things that you're willing to be flexible about so you can encourage your teen's growing independence and negotiating skills. When you express opinions and values rationally and reasonably -- and encourage your teen to do the same --you send the important message that you respect your teen's perspective, and expect him or her to respect yours, as well.

–Choose your battles. Of course, there will be times when compromise isn't an option. But it's important to avoid making every issue a battle.

–Open the door to friends. Encourage your child to bring friends to your house to study together after school and hang out on the weekends. Provide a comfortable space to socialize, and offer plenty of snacks. This allows your teen to have a safe, supervised place to spend time with friends, and gives you the opportunity to get to know your teen's friends and gain insight into their relationships.

–Be available. Even though adolescents don't seem to want to spend much time with parents, they need to know you're around and available. Invite your child to take a walk with you, cook a favorite meal together, or play a sport on the weekend. These one-to-one moments can strengthen bonds and offer your child comfortable, low-pressure opportunities to talk with you about what's happening in his or her life.

–Notice positive behavior. Never underestimate the importance of letting your teen know you're proud of her and you value her thoughts and opinions. When she expresses herself in a positive, appropriate way, point it out. Remember to be patient. Learning effective communication and negotiation skills takes time and practice.

About the Author

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and speaker specializing in parenting and child development.

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