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Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Why family rows are good for you
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine

Boyfriends, girlfriends, loud music and late nights - the staple diet of arguments between parents and their teenage offspring. But instead of avoiding such rows, should we be embracing them?

The blazing arguments and poisoned silences of family rows are something that everyone has been through at some point - either as the wronged adolescent, the stroppy child, or the anxiety-ridden parent.

Many people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid such conflicts, but are they wasting their time?

A Cambridge University study suggests arguments between mothers and their teenage girls are actually a sign of a healthy relationship.

Many other psychologists agree, and say adolescent boys should also be having shouting matches with the old folks. They suggest it's those unnerving families who never have a crossed word that we should actually feel sorry for.

Volatile mix

Over the past three years, Dr Terri Apter, a social psychologist at Cambridge University, has listened to 23 pairs of mothers and daughters recount more than 120 of their arguments.

I could not believe that this love that was like bedrock could dissolve in adolescence
Dr Terri Apter
She chose the pairing because they row more than anyone else - an average of once every two-and-a-half days, for 15 minutes at a time.

Adolescent boys may have a reputation for sulky, aggressive behaviour, but they only row with their parents once every four days, with six minutes for each shouting match.

Despite the volatile mother-daughter mix, Dr Apter found this relationship was particularly strong and highly-valued, with the frequent rows leading to a greater understanding.

"Teenage girls often argue with their mothers to provide up-to-date information of their interests, outlook and capabilities," she says.

"Both mothers and daughters showed that they valued a close relationship, taking steps to improve understanding of one another, even during quarrels."

Typically argumentative

The trigger for a blazing row can be almost anything from homework and curfews to the way a mother stands, or bites into an apple, says Dr Apter.

Charlotte Church, Steven Johnson and Maria Church
Charlotte Church fell out with her mum over Steven Johnson

She says previous studies have too often seen these altercations as negative and therefore something to be regretted.

As her own two daughters became typically argumentative teenagers, her interest in taking a fresh look at the problem was sparked.

"I could not believe that this love that was like bedrock could dissolve in adolescence," she says.

"With my daughters it was can I stay out? Can I go here? Why do I have to be back before my friends? They also thought I didn't know anything and would hate my anxiety and my 'babying' them."

She suggests the rows are part of a normal, constantly changing relationship and provide daughters the chance to show they are no longer little girls, but are becoming women.

And while she concentrated on the women of the house, Dr Apter says the broad lessons of listening and understanding can be applied to any parent-child relationship.

Kiss and make up

The academic says reality TV show the Osbournes provides just one example to back up her findings.

The Osbournes celebrate Sharon's birthday with Elton John
"Love you, Mum"
Mother Sharon and daughter Kelly engage in frequent, intense rows, but nearly always kiss and make up - and have a close bond, she says.

You don't have too look far to find other examples of difficult parent-child relationships.

Doors were slammed in the Church household last year when Charlotte started dating rap DJ Steven Johnson and wearing a 'My Barbie is a crack whore' T-shirt.

Violinist Vanessa Mae employed her mum as her manager - before sacking her for being "too competitive".

And one row between a young Sophie Dahl and her mother Tessa - which ended in Sophie sobbing in the street - led to her being spotted by a model scout.

Tony Blair is more than likely to have had a few words with son Euan, after he was arrested for being drunk and incapable in Leicester Square at the age of 16.

And Prince Charles has had to take Harry to task for underage drinking and smoking cannabis

'Terribly compliant'

Rows between parents and teenage children of either sex are part of family life and, while they can be upsetting, are not normally something to worry about, says psychologist and ChildLine chief executive Carole Easton.

Dennis and father Dirty Den
We like turning the TV on and seeing people saying all the things we don't dare to say to the people close to us
EastEnders writer Katharine Way

"You would have a terribly compliant child if they never confronted or challenged their parents. But what they don't want is the constant stress and anxiety that can be caused."

She warns rows become damaging when a child of any age feels they are not being listened to, and their views are being dismissed.

Christine Northam, a senior counsellor at the relationship charity Relate, says: "Although arguments can get a bit heated, if you reach some kind of conclusion and a find a way out of a problem, they are worth having."

She says that in families with no arguments, people are "keeping their feelings battened down". And that's unhealthy.

Miscreant offspring

But while the psychologists say we're doing well if we row, there are those who believe we've still got plenty of pent-up feelings we're dying to let out.

Turn on any soap opera and it's unlikely you'll have to wait long before the characters exchange words - to the delight of millions of viewers.

EastEnders writer Katharine Way says that even when the likes of Dirty Den and his miscreant offspring Dennis are not rowing, there's tension in every scene.

She says: "People watch soaps because in real life they spend their time trying to avoid conflicts. We like turning the TV on and seeing people saying all the things we don't dare to say to the people close to us."

Yet it seems unlikely that the argumentative Dirty Den, lost to his family for years after a staged death, is indeed a model father.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I've spent the majority of my life avoiding conflicts as far as I could. I realise now that it was a totally fake and unnatural thing to do - and has resulted in fake relationships rather than stronger ones than could stand the occasional conflict.
Al Mendax, UK

I try not to have rows with anyone, and I can honestly say I've only lost my rag twice in 24 years. It's much easier to talk about things more calmly, then you don't have the bad feeling that goes with an argument.
Phil, South Wales

I used to row regularly with my parents as a teenager but have always had a wonderful relationship with them both. Nowadays, I always feel that I can discuss any topic with my parents.
Jane, USA/UK

It's perfectly simple - there's nothing wrong with rows and arguments in a loving relationship as the loving side will ultimately rule.
Andy Simpson, United Kingdom

I only wish that our 16-year-old daughter would stay to have a row and talk through her problems. She prefers to disappear for days on end not telling us where she is or has been. She is driving us to distraction and making her mum ill.
John, England

I think it is healthy to let it all out in an argument. I had blazing rows with my mother and seem to have the same with my daughter but we always kiss and make up. Sometimes things are said that should not be but it gets it out in the open instead of being bottled up inside.
Lori, UK

Most people can cope with regular rows. But for some of us, a quiet constructive conversation is better.
Padou, Cameroon

If someone has a hankering for arguing there is always a deeper-rooted reason. I find this solution to family life misleading and unrepresentative of my and many of my friends' experiences.
Richard, UK

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