The University Network

How Parents Shape Young Adults’ Romantic Relationships

Effective parenting and a positive family climate during early adolescence may lead children to have healthier, less violent romantic relationships later in life, according to a recent study by researchers from The Pennsylvania State University.

The researchers found that adolescents who reported a less conflictual family climate and parents who used effective parenting strategies, such as refraining from excessive punishment and providing reasons for decision making, were more likely to have healthy problem-solving skills and less violent romantic relationships in young adulthood.

The paper is published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescents.

The Study

The researchers recruited 974 adolescents from rural and semi-rural areas in Pennsylvania and Iowa, and asked them to take a survey at three points between sixth and ninth grade.

The survey asked a variety of questions ranging from family climate (if there was conflict in the family or support), to their parents’ discipline strategies, how assertive they are, and if they have a positive relationship with their parents.

“In this study, we focused on three aspects of effective parenting: 1) consistency—rules and disciplines do not change with time or depend on parents’ mood, 2) inductive reasoning—give reasons for decisions that parents make, and 3) (lack of) harsh discipline—such as parents lose temper and yell at children,” said Mengya Xia, a graduate student in human development and family studies at Penn State.

Then, when the participants reached young adulthood, averaging an age of 19.5 years, the researchers asked them questions about their romantic relationships. These questions consisted of their feelings of love for their partner, whether they could constructively solve problems, and if they were ever verbally or physically violent.

The Findings

The researchers found that those who reported a more positive family climate and effective parenting were more likely to have problem-solving skills within their romantic lives.

In addition, those who reported a positive relationship with their parents in adolescents were found to have more love and connection with their romantic partners.

“From what we learned in this study, effective parenting from early adolescence to middle adolescence is consistently important for children’s healthy relationships later in life,” said Xia.

The researchers found that having more effective problem-solving skills was associated with a lower risk of violence in early adult relationships.

They also found that children who exhibited more assertiveness were more likely to have healthy romantic relationships.

“Adolescents from families that are less cohesive and more conflictual may be less likely to learn positive-problem solving strategies or engage in family interaction affectionately,” Xia said in a statement. “So in their romantic relationships, they are also less likely to be affectionate and more likely to use destructive strategies when they encounter problems, like violence.”

Implications

Xia said these findings suggest ways for families to utilize effective parenting strategies to help their children build healthy romantic relationships.

“Some take-home messages for parents based on our findings would be: try to avoid using harsh discipline to regulate children’s behavior, instead, provide reasons for your decisions,” she said. “Be patient to explain if your kids cannot understand immediately, and stick to your discipline once a rule is set up.”

Xia also suggested that parents should try to make their family warm, cohesive, organized, and less conflictual to promote a positive family climate and encourage healthy relationships.