Family breakdown and mental health problems in teens

You might imagine that the way our parents behave towards each other and how they behave towards us ought to be a major factor in how we develop as teenagers.

After all, our parents are the most important people in our lives. We see them at close range more than we see anybody else.

They are the people who made us, who care for us most, who act as primary role models for us, who spend most time with us, and who we want most to love us.

So it makes sense that if they treat each other well and show us – their children – love and safe boundaries, then the odds are that most of us will turn out fine.

If they fall short on any of these areas – they show contempt for one another, they fight or blank each other, they can’t make their relationship work so they split up, or they can’t show us the love and safe boundaries we need – then it makes sense that the odds start building up against us.

How we see the world is bound to be framed first and foremost by what we experience at home.

And yet the prevailing view in government circles is that whether the parents are married or not, or stay together or not, isn’t important.

What’s most important, apparently, is whether they fight.

Parental conflict is certainly unpleasant and well known to have unpleasant consequences for children.

Yet our previous research has shown that only 2 per cent of parents quarrel a lot and only 9 per cent of parents who divorce quarreled a lot before they split up.

These numbers alone suggest that parental conflict is an insufficient explanation for the prevalence of teenage problems. In any case, children are often better off out of a high conflict relationship. Continue reading


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