Do Mother’s Relationships get copied by their Adolescent Children?

A recent study from the University of Missouri says a mothers’ friendships with other adults may affect their adolescent children’s relationships with their own friends. It is especially so with negative aspects of these relationships like conflict and antagonism.

Louise J. Kaplan wrote that “Adolescence represents an inner emotional upheaval, a struggle between the eternal human wish to cling to the past and the equally powerful wish to get on with the future.”

Despite being part of everone’s lives at some point, not much research has been done on the link between parents’ friendships and the emotional well-being of their adolescent children until now.

And it’s not a moment too soon.

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

Copying Negative Traits

Glick, a doctoral candidate at MU, along with Amanda Rose, professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, studied the development of friendships and other peer relationships during adolescence and their impact on psychological adjustment.

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

Earlier research on this subject focused on elementary-aged children, but these researchers wanted to expand their study to focus on the formative adolescent years.

Antagonism vs. Friendship

Youth ranging in age from 10 to 17 and their mothers were surveyed 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,” says Glick. “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.”

Original Study:

Associations of Mothers’ Friendship Quality with Adolescents’ Friendship Quality and Emotional Adjustment
Journal of Research on Adolescence
Gary C. Glick, Amanda J. Rose, Lance P. Swenson and Erika M. Waller
31 JAN 2013, DOI: 10.1111/jora.12021

photo: Acy Varlan, Creative Commons License