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A Lesson for Parents: Arguing in Front of Your Teens has Lasting Impact

Nation's Longest-running Mental Health Predictors Study Shows Long-term Influence of Family Conflict

BOSTON (March 10, 2009) — Exposure to family arguments during adolescence has a lasting impact on an individual's mental health and functioning as an adult, according to a study published in the March edition of The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The longitudinal study, led by Simmons School of Social Work Professor Helen Reinherz, shows adolescents who reported increased arguments at age 15, compared with their peers, had an elevated risk of major depression, alcohol abuse/dependence, drug dependence, and adult antisocial behaviors at age 30. These participants also had a twofold risk for being unemployed as adults.

The study, lead-authored by co-investigator Dr. Angela Paradis of the Simmons Longitudinal Study, also shows that adolescents who reported exposure to family violence by age 18 are significantly more likely than their peers to have a mental disorder, including alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, lower self-esteem, and lower overall life satisfaction at age 30. Additionally, the study indicates that overall physical health was compromised by earlier exposure to family physical violence.

"It was no surprise that we found long-term effects of exposure to physical violence, but the documentation of the potential lasting influence of verbal conflict is significant," said Reinherz. "We believe that exposure to increased family arguments in adolescence served as an important marker for impaired functioning into adulthood."

For 32 years, Reinherz has served as principal investigator of the Simmons Longitudinal Study, the nation's longest-running study of predictors of good or poor mental health from early childhood onward.  Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration, the study tracked nearly 400 residents of Quincy, Mass., from the time they entered kindergarten in 1977 until their mid-30s today. 

The research interviewed the children and their parents and teachers at key points in the youths' lives, looking for major risk factors that are likely to lead to mental health problems in adulthood, and for protective factors to serve as buffers from life's rough spots. The study was designed to help parents, teachers, mental health professionals, policy makers and others improve early identification and treatment of mental health issues.

The study authors were Paradis, Reinherz, Dr. Rose Giaconia, and Kirsten Ward of the Simmons Longitudinal Study, and Dr. William Beardslee of Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Garrett Fitzmaurice of the Harvard School of Public Health.

For more information describing the work of the study and publications of some of its findings, visit www.simmons.edu/ssw/sls.

The Simmons School of Social Work has a nationally acclaimed clinical social work program and is one of the oldest schools of social work in the nation. Simmons College is a nationally recognized private university located in the heart of Boston.

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