Yale Study: Parents Demonstrating Warmth Reduce Conflict With Teens

A new study by the Yale Child Study Center shows that parents can reduce the effects of inevitable conflict with their teens by demonstrating emotional warmth. Parental displays of emotional love can make a difference in that parent’s relationship with their teens, even in the course of a single day.

dad and daughter hugging
A new study from Yale is the first to report on how teens feel loved. (Twenty20 @brightideasfl)

The more parents expressed affection, the more loved teens felt

The study, “When do adolescents feel loved? A daily within-person study of parent–adolescent relations.” published in the journal Emotion, is the first to explore fluctuations on how loved teens feel on a daily basis. The researchers, John Coffey (Yale University and Sewanee: The University of the South), Mengya Xia (University of Alabama), and Greg Fosco (Pennsylvania State University) were able to connect daily fluctuations in how loved teens were feeling to their parents’ shows of affection and their parents’ perceptions of conflict.

Regardless of the overall closeness of the parent-teen relationship, the study found that the more parents showed affection, praise and understanding, the more their teens reported feeling loved. On days with increased conflict and reduced affection, the teens reported feeling less loved by their parents.

By demonstrating love, parents can lessen the impact of conflict with their teens

On a practical level, the study also found that parents can help to lessen the impact of conflict by showing their teens more affection. Meaning, high conflict days would not reduce how loved teens felt so long as their parents also showed warmth. Importantly, the warmth had to be shown on the same day as the conflict, but it did not necessarily need to be related to the conflict.

According to Dr. Coffey, the study’s lead author and the Arnold Gesell Visiting Assistant Professor at the Yale Child Study Center, “parents often stress about the conflicts they are experiencing with their children, but our study suggests conflicts are manageable so long as children experience warmth from their parents at some point during the same day.”

As Dr. Coffey goes on to explain, “warmth can happen before, after, or during the conflict. Parents I talk to about this tend to be surprised because they worry about the conflicts but the teens are indicating it is the lack of warmth that really bothers them.”

To reach their findings, the researchers worked with 151 different families and collected nightly reports by one parent and one teen. At the start of the study, participants completed baseline surveys about their closeness in general. 

Teens feelings of being loved can fluctuate daily

The overall results of the study align with existing research suggesting that even in long-term relationships, how loved a person feels can change daily. For teens and parents, how they resolve conflict and communicate are also important factors in building and maintaining a healthy long-term relationship. One thing that will not help is trying to avoid conflict, which can often have more negative effects.

As Coffey explains to Grown & Flown, “conflicts are part of any long-term relationship so it is important that we will show that warmth. Warmth is also a great way to repair a relationship and help our children understand that we are there for them even though we might disagree.”

Coffey feels that the study’s findings are especially relevant right now.

Because parents and their children are spending so much more time together, often with restricted space and under additional stress. Finding ways to be kind and warm will help mitigate potential conflicts and ensure children feel loved. 

Dr. Coffey, Assistant Professor at Yale

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About Melissa Milsten

Melissa Milsten lives in Westchester, New York with her husband, their four teenagers and Ruby the dog (who is sometimes the best behaved member of the family). Her background is in publishing and marketing. When she isn’t working or parenting, you might spot her on a yoga mat or lacing up a pair of sneakers. You can read more about her here

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