Tracy Asamoah M.D.

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Relationships

Family Life and Your Teenager's Future Love Life

A new study explores how family life influences adolescents' adult relationship.

Posted Aug 27, 2018

Parenting is difficult.

Forget all of the posts that depict your “friends” living their easy, blissful daily lives that make you question your skills as a parent. Being a good parent is not captured in a photo of the nature-inspired bento box lunch made for a 2nd grader complete with a life-like forest habitat carved out of grapes, raisins and cheese sticks. Being a good parent is messy, imperfect and at times, downright dirty. It is not for the faint of heart. However, there are parenting practices and family environments that will make a difference in your children’s lives as they grow.

What matters is the “soup” of family life we raise our kids in. When arguments occur or challenges arise, how do you handle it? How do you argue with your spouse? Do your kids get to see you fight fair and make-up? How would your 16-year-old feel approaching you if he rear-ended another car? Do you help him accept accountability for any misjudgment while still feeling loved and accepted for his imperfections?

This is what matters.

In fact, the nurturance and affection our children receive don’t just impact their lives while they are under our roof. A child’s family life also affects who he or she will be romantic relationships in adulthood.

Extensive research has informed us of how violent and traumatic childhoods are powerful risk factors for negative romantic relationships in adulthood. A recent study looks at the other side of the story examining factors that lead to positive adult romantic relationships. Our children learn a lot about how to behave in relationships from observing us, their parents. What they learn from both positive (listening and kindness) and negative (yelling and ignoring) interactions influences who they will be in their romantic relationships as adults. If we are able to create a positive family climate, then our children will be more likely to recreate these types of relationships when they become adults. This is a powerful legacy to pass onto our children.

In February 2018, The Journal of Youth and Adolescence published a study that examined how adolescents’ family climate influenced those adolescents’ relationship behaviors in early adulthood (Xia et al.) A sample of 974 sixth graders was selected and followed into adulthood. This study revealed some of the ways that early familial relationships influence the development of later relationships. Specifically, it looked at how family climate and parenting may contribute to adolescents engaging in healthier and happier romantic relationships as adults. Healthy family climates and parenting practices are important in creating an atmosphere that support adolescents in having more positive romantic relationships. Here are four key finding from this study.

Family climate is associated with better problem solving 

Cohesion, organization and low conflict all characterize a positive family climate. One of the results of the study was that an adolescent’s family climate was associated with better problem-solving in romantic relationships in early adulthood. Families who create a positive family environment use effective communication strategies and problem-solving techniques to navigate conflicts and difficult situations. Adolescents who grow up in such an environment are more likely to use these skills in later romantic relationships. Furthermore, the study revealed that these adolescents were at less risk for relationship violence. These adolescents grew up with opportunities to witness and practice effective ways for navigating challenges. 

Effective parenting practices are related to better problem solving

Effective parenting practices include inductive reasoning and consistent discipline. When we parent our kids in a way that is clear and consistent, they carry these practices into their adult relationships. Like adults, adolescents need to feel understood and validated. Similar to younger children, they continue to benefit from predictable and clear boundaries. They also learn when given reasonable consequences for negative behaviors. This allows them to grow and explore within the context of safe parenting relationships.

Strong interpersonal skills are associated with positive adult romantic relationships

Specifically, this study looked at assertiveness and positive family engagement. The study results showed that assertiveness, in particular, was associated with better problem-solving skills in later romantic relationships. Assertiveness involves asking for what you need and advocating for yourself in constructive and positive ways. Adolescents who learn to do this within a safe nurturing family are better equipped to do this in their adult romantic relationships. 

Family climate and positive parenting practices are reciprocal with adolescent interpersonal skills

When an adolescent lives in a family where the parenting practices are clear and consistent and the family is cohesive, the adolescent is more likely to be engaged. When adolescents are engaged in positive ways with their families, the family environment and parenting practices are more positive. When the entire family is engaged and collaborative, it is a better environment for all. Adolescents are able to go through their developmental task in a safe and appropriate way. Their parents feel more effective at guiding them through this process and an overall sense of greater family functioning results. Again, this allows adolescents to experience and witness how positive adult relationships function in good times and bad. 

Parenting is an imperfect and challenging experience. However, there are practices and behaviors that are more likely to provide our children with the foundation for healthier relationships as they grow into adulthood.

References

Xia, Mengya; Fosco, Gregory; Lippold, Melissa; Feinberg, Mark. A Developmental Perspective on Young Adult Romantic Relationships: Examining Family and Individual Factors in Adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence , Volume 47 (7) – Feb 13, 2018