In many father-child relationships a dad can transition from best friend to biggest enemy seemingly overnight. Fights with dad during adolescence are linked with depression later on in life, and can often leave bitter feelings that last well into adulthood. A new study suggests that when young people talk about their arguments with dad, the relationship is strengthened and self-esteem is built up.  

Jeff Cookston, a professor and chair of the psychology department at San Francisco State University, recently led a study focused on how talking about parental conflict can help father/child relationships. "There has been a lot of evidence suggesting that talking to people about conflict is a good thing for adolescents," he said. "What we did for the first time was look at what actually happens when they talk to someone," Cookston explained in a recent press release.

A total of 392 families took part in the study, answering questions about conflicts between adolescents and fathers/stepfathers. Equal mixes of white and Mexican families were involved in the study. Parents and children were asked how often they asked for help during conflicts and who they turned to for advice. Young people were asked how they felt about themselves and their fathers after seeking support.

Results showed that adolescents most commonly turned to their mothers for help when arguing with their fathers, but friends and family friends were also commonly turned to. Even talking to dads and stepfathers about the argument have positive effects. "When kids get explanations and good reasons that fit with the world they see, it helps them feel better. It's sometimes hard to change how adolescents feel about situations, but we can talk to them about how they think about those situations," said Cookston.  The results did not differ between race disparities, or if a child argued with a father or stepfather.

The study suggests that the best way to resolve a fight between children and fathers is to talk it out. According to Cookston, adolescence is a “time of physiological changes in the brain,” which influence how a child interprets the world. “We can use this time to help them understand personal relationships the same way we expect them to learn and understand, for example, geometry or algebra," Cookston added. By helping a child have a better relationship with their father, the entire family’s happiness can be improved.

A father plays an important role in a child’s welfare. "Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring,” sociologist Dr. David Popenoe explains. Children who have positive relationships with their dads perform better in school, and have better verbal skills and intellectual functioning, Psychology Today reports. Having a good relationship with your father lessens susceptibility to stress. In a study from 2010, 912 men and women were monitored during an eight-day period and questioned on their emotional and psychological state. Those who had good relationships with their fathers were less bothered by stressful incidents in their daily lives.

Source: Cookston J, Olide A, Parke R, Fabricus W, Saenz D, Braver S. He Said What? Guided Cognitive Reframing About the Co-Resident Father/Stepfather–Adolescent Relationship. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 2014.