Teens may mimic mom’s troubled friendships

"We know that conflict is a normal part of any relationship," says Gary Glick. "Parents should consider whether they are good role models for their children especially where their friends are concerned." (Credit: taylor n/Flickr)

Adolescents are more likely to model their mothers’ conflict-ridden friendships than they are to imitate relationships that have more positive qualities.

Until now, little research has been conducted on the association between parents’ friendships and the emotional well being of their adolescent children. A new study suggests that mothers’ friendships with other adults can impact their adolescent children’s relationships with their own friends, particularly the negative aspects of these relationships such as conflict and antagonism.


Gary C. Glick, a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri, and Amanda Rose, professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, studied the development of friendships and other peer relationships during adolescence and their effect on psychological adjustment.

They found that adolescents may mimic the negative characteristics of their mothers’ relationships in their own peer-to-peer friendships, suggesting that mothers can serve as role models for their adolescents during formative years.

“Mothers who display high levels of conflict with friends may signal to their children that such behavior is acceptable, or even normative in friendships,” Glick says. “Additional findings suggest that adolescents internalize their reactions to their mothers’ conflict with adult friends which may lead to anxiety and depression.”

Previous research of this type focused on elementary-aged children, but Glick and Rose wanted to expand their study to focus on the formative adolescent years. The study appears in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

Youth ranging in age from 10 to 17 and their mothers were polled separately to measure perceived positive and negative friendship qualities in both groups. Results showed that positive friendship qualities were not always imitated by adolescents; however, negative and antagonistic relationship characteristics exhibited by mothers were much more likely to be mimicked by the youth studied.

“We know that conflict is a normal part of any relationship—be it a relationship between a parent and a child, or a mother and her friends—and we’re not talking physical altercations but verbal conflicts,” Glick says. “But being exposed to high levels of such conflict generally isn’t going to be good for children. Parents should consider whether they are good role models for their children especially where their friends are concerned. When things go awry, parents should talk with their children about how to act with their friends, but more specifically, how not to act.”

Glick anticipates that future research may include how conflict resolution may be incorporated into parental methods in the home.

The National Institute of Mental Health funded the research.

Source: University of Missouri