June 7, 2009

Parents’ frequent fighting affects teens

Teens tend to fare better when they live with both biological parents, but when parents frequently argue, young adults can fail to thrive, U.S. researcher say.

Lead author Kelly Musick of Cornell University says when their parents argue, teens are significantly more likely than other teens to binge drink and tend to smoke, and their poor school grades are similar to those of their peers who don't have both biological parents at home.

Musick and co-author Ann Meier of the University of Minnesota looked at how teens in 1,963 households in the National Survey of Families and Households fared as teens to early 30s. She compared those who lived with married parents who often fought with those living in stepfather or single-mother households.

Our results clearly illustrate that the advantages of living with two continuously married parents are not shared equally by all children, Musick says in a statement. Compared with children in low-conflict families, children from high-conflict families are more likely to drop out of school, have poor grades, smoke, binge drink, use marijuana, have early sex, be young and unmarried when they have a child and then experience the breakup of that relationship.

Income and parenting styles did not account for these differences, the researchers say.

The findings were presented at meetings of the Population Association of America and the American Sociological Association.