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Keep calm and don't carry on when parenting teens

Researchers look at how mothers and fathers control themselves (and their rising anger) in difficult interactions with their teenagers

In a new study, psychologists find that mothers and fathers who are less capable of dampening down their anger are more likely to resort to harsh discipline aimed at their teens, and that fathers in particular were not as good at considering alternative explanations for their teens' behavior.

  1. Discipline issues usually peak during toddlerhood and then again during adolescence, because both periods are really marked by exploration and figuring out who you are, and by becoming more independent

  2. Yet the developmental changes during puberty and the transition to adolescence mean that parents necessarily need to adjust their parenting behaviors.

  3. Part of that adjustment is parents' ability to think on their feet and navigate conflicts with flexibility as their teens strive for more autonomy and greater input in the decision-making processes.

  4. The scientists also measured parents' set-shifting capacity, that is, the parents' ability to be flexible and to consider alternative factors, such as their child's age and development.

  5. On average, fathers were not as good as mothers at set shifting and were less able to control their physiological anger response.

  6. As a result, they were more likely to think that their teen was intentionally difficult, or "just trying to push buttons," which in turn guided their decisions about discipline.


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