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FAMILY : To Survive Teens, Think Positive

March 02, 1994|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Teen-agers can be surly, sometimes behaving so negatively Mother Teresa couldn't cope.

Their parents, on the other hand, are long-suffering souls just trying to keep a positive outlook.

Those stereotypes have just been blown by Ohio State University psychologist Raymond Montemayor, who videotaped conversations between teen-agers and parents to observe their voice tones, body language and facial expressions.

The surprise: as puberty progressed, parents showed a larger increase in negativity than did their children. The finding is based on numerous videotaped conversations in 85 two-parent, middle-class families with children ranging from ages 11 to 15.

Make no mistake: Overall, teen-agers still win the negativity race. But the parents' negativity escalated faster.

"Adolescents are almost always more negative toward their parents than the parents are toward the kids," Montemayor says. In the study, teen-agers were likely to be negative in 15% of conversations, while parents were negative in 9%.

Mothers and daughters are likely to have the most heated relationships, he found, while fathers and sons spar the least. That's because women tend to express emotions more than men do, he speculates, or because they are more involved in their teens' day-to-day lives.

"Puberty is a family affair," concludes Montemayor, who has a 15-year-old daughter. "It doesn't just affect the child but also the parents--and may be more stressful for parents than teens."

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