October 31, 2014 / 3:10 PM / 5 years ago

Conflicts at home affect teens at school and vice versa

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - - Conflicts in a teen’s life can spill over at school and at home for days afterward, a new study suggests.

Finding out why the spillover occurs, and which teens are most vulnerable to it, could help target ways to interrupt this damaging negative feedback loop, the study team writes in the journal Child Development.

“We know that family conflict is a risk factor for poor school performance, but less is known about how these processes are associated on a daily basis,” lead author Adela Timmons told Reuters Health in an email.

“We wanted to see if problems in one domain are associated with problems in the other domain on the same day and even several days later,” said Timmons, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “We also wanted to identify teens most at risk for these spillover processes.”

Timmons and her co-author Gayle Margolin, a psychologist and researcher also at USC, analyzed data on more than 100 California teens and their parents who had been recruited for a long-term study.

Every day for two weeks, the parents and teens filled out questionnaires, reporting on any family conflict that had occurred during the day. The teens also reported on their moods and any school problems.

In addition, teens completed a one-time questionnaire about symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and so-called externalizing behaviors – meaning “acting out on” their problems.

The researchers found a cycle of spillover between family conflicts and problems at school.

Conflict with either parent was associated with more school-related problems and with teens being in a bad mood for up to two days later.

But conflict between parents did not appear to be linked with problems at school for the teens.

The researchers also found that teens who externalized their symptoms were more likely to have bad days at school when they had a conflict with their father. Kids who had more internalized symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, were more likely to have bad moods on days they had conflicts with either parent.

The connector between problems at home and at school seemed to be the teenagers’ mood.

“We found that negative mood may be one factor that transmits problems across domains,” Timmons said. “It is possible that helping teens learn to recover from negative events in one domain may prevent the transmission of problems to other domains.”

Margolin said parents should know that teens can be quite affected by conflict that occurs at home. 

“Even if teens do not show they are upset, they may be feeling upset for a day or two, and this might interrupt how they are doing at school,” she told Reuters Health.

“Some teens may find it difficult to put aside the negative mood that accompanies recent problems at home or at school,” she said.

“I think understanding how different spheres of adolescents’ lives impact each other and adolescents’ well-being is an important topic to study,” Lisa Flook told Reuters Health in an email.

“I think the authors are spot-on in identifying daily interactions and negative mood as potential targets for intervening in the spillover cycle,” said Flook, a scientist with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Flook, who wasn’t involved in the new study, said a similar cyclic pattern exists for adults as well, especially related to work stress.

For parents, she said, becoming aware of the pattern in their own lives and monitoring and managing their own levels of stress might be a first step toward helping their teens.

“Further, parents could be aware of this pattern of spillover in their children, so that they might be able to provide support and perhaps be less triggered by their adolescents’ negative mood and help their child develop more insight into the pattern as well,” Flook said.

Flook said schools should recognize the value of social-emotional learning in order to support students, because events outside of the school context do impact students’ learning.

“Helping students learn healthy ways to manage and cope with stress and difficult emotions is a valuable lifelong skill to develop,” she said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/13kcecE Child Development, online October 23, 2014.

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