When parents fight with each other, they can easily lose sight of the effect their arguing has on their teenage children. While some disagreement between partners is inevitable, the occasional argument doesn’t have the same negative impact on a teen’s overall well-being as witnessing constant fighting between parents.
According to psychologist E. Mark Cummings, PhD, at the University of Notre Dame, children's emotional well-being is influenced by the relationship between their parents. Teenagers understand disagreements, but when parents fight without resolving their differences, it often creates a situation that can make teens feel vulnerable. Cummings explains that unresolved conflict between parents takes a toll on the children because it gives children a sense of insecurity about the relationship between their parents.
Seeing their parents fight continually can create an air of uncertainty for teens, which often causes them to jump to conclusions. When your teen sees you and your partner fighting, he will often assume the worst, such as if you are fighting about him or that your arguing indicates you no longer love each other and that your fighting might end up causing a divorce. For teens who are dealing with their own issues, this type of added emotional stress can lead to health problems, including depression.
Unavoidable stressors, such as biological changes and academic issues, place a significant amount of pressure on teens. However, exposing your teen to the additional stress of parental fighting can cause her to suffer, or lead to more severe bouts of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that depression in teens caused by their parents’ arguing commonly goes unnoticed by their parents because parents are so consumed with their own problems they fail to notice the effect their arguing has on their children.
Stress from insecurity over the stability of their home life, because of their parents' constant fighting, can cause teens to pull back emotionally and distance themselves from others outside the home. These feelings of despair, combined with other negative emotions, can often be responsible for your teen developing issues at school, causing her to experience significant learning delays because of her inability to focus in class or on her assignments.
While the occasional disagreement is actually a healthy learning experience for teens, teaching them how to address and talk through problems, disrespectful fighting riddled with accusations and name calling sets a highly detrimental example for your teen. Referred to as modeling, your teenager learns much of what will become her adult attitudes from you, her parents. Author of the book “Happily Married With Kids: It's Not a Fairy Tale,” Carol Ummel Lindquist, Ph.D., points out that children pick up their parents' behavior when they argue. As her parent, you have to make the decision if you want your teen to learn how to have a civilized disagreement, or to teach her how to argue like a bully.