If You Can't Say Something Nice, At Least Say Something Constructive

Posted on Thu, Dec 24, 2009 @ 04:20 PM

New study on coping with interpersonal tensions

Image courtesy Nam Nguyen

The December 2009 issue of the APA's Journal of Family Psychology presents findings that may fly in the face of the traditional wisdom that "if you can't say something nice" you shouldn't say anything at all.

Researchers Kira Birditt and Leslie Rott of the University of Michigan, together with Karen Fingerman of Purdue, examined relationships between parents and their grown children to assess strategies used in coping with tensions in their relationships.

The study's most notable finding?

"In contrast with constructive strategies," the researchers write, "avoidant strategies predicted lower solidarity and greater ambivalence. This finding was surprising because we had expected that avoidance would be associated with greater solidarity and lower ambivalence."

Gunhild O. Hagestad's 1987 research into common interpersonal strategies employed intergenerationally within families found that families often establish "demilitarized zones"-topics that are avoided in order to preserve peace and maintain relationships. However, this new research suggests that the strategy may not be a beneficial one.

Birditt, Rott and Fingerman speculate that "Hagestad's research focused on stressful family situations that may not apply to families in the current study. Thus, in typical situations, avoidant strategies may not be instrumental for greater solidarity and lower ambivalence."

Constructive strategies in interpersonal relations include working collaboratively to find positive solutions to disagreements, accepting one another's limitations and understanding one another's point of view.

Destructive strategies include the use of inflammatory or emotional language, accusations, yelling or criticism.

Overall, Birditt, Rott and Fingerman reported that mothers and fathers, as well as their adult children, tended to use constructive strategies more often than destructive or avoidant ones and recommended that this should be encouraged over the use of avoidant or destructive strategies in coping with relationship problems.


Tags: family relationships, Ruth Nemzoff, communication improve, good communication, how to improve communication, problems relationships, resolving interpersonal conflict, tannen

Fighting Violence with Resilience

Posted on Tue, Dec 22, 2009 @ 05:47 AM
Large numbers of teens are exposed to risk factors for violence. Why do relatively few succumb?
teen violence

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that rates of violent behavior among U.S. teens have been generally on the decrease since 1991, homicide is still the second leading cause of death among teens 15-19 years of age. The U.K., on the other hand, reports a rise in homicides among 10-19-year-olds in 2007 and 2008. Such mixed news begs important questions for parents: How many violent children are too many? Ten children? One child? Perhaps there are no guarantees, but researchers who focus on the interplay between biological and environmental influences on behavior have uncovered several factors associated with youth violence, which are outlined in a recent article titled "Who Am I? The Question of Youth Violence."

The American Psychological Association’s Web site notes that there’s no gene for violence. Research indicates that even when there are biological factors, these can very often be mitigated by environmental factors: particularly through the efforts of family and community. Violence, generally speaking, is a learned behavior.

While the media may certainly be a force for modeling violence to teens, parents must take ultimate responsibility for teaching children what to emulate and supplying them with appropriate models. Unfortunately, parents themselves sometimes model violence—and children may be exposed to violence within their communities as well. In addition to these two important influences, other factors thought to contribute to aggression include poor family, peer and community relationships in general and lower levels of moral and abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills. And of course, mental disorders and biological factors (including brain damage and other abnormalities) also come into play.

However, even though large numbers of teens are exposed to various combinations of any or all of the risk factors for violence, plainly they do not all become violent. The difference between those who do and those who don't seems to boil down to the degree of resilience children have at their disposal.

How can parents build the kind of resilience in their children that can help protect them from responding to others with violence? Research can be distilled to roughly five essential life skills that support resilience: skills best taught by adults with whom children have secure emotional connections.

In other words, the engaged and supportive family relationships that instill a positive identity in children are of critical importance in youth violence prevention.

Tags: youth violence, teen violence, family violence, aggressive children, domestic violence effects on children, juvenile violence, schools violence