Teens May Learn Positive Interaction Styles at Home

When a two-year-old says something wise beyond his years, or uses a style of conversation that mimics that of an adult, it is often believed that he is parroting the words and phrasing he hears from his parents. The imitation of parents and other influential adults may continue to have lasting impact, and may influence how teens deal with adverse or tense conversations. Especially among teens with depression, a study shows that responses to negative discussions may be a learned behavior. Depression often surfaces during the teen years. While there has been ample research examining the risks that can lead to the development of depression, there has been little exploration of the fluctuations in symptoms during the teen years. Gaining information about the severity of symptoms and subtle nuances of the disorder may provide important information about the disorder in adolescents. To address this gap in information, Lisa B. Sheeber of the Oregon Research Institute and colleagues examined the overall mood, or dysphoria, among teens. The examination also measured the increasing and decreasing levels of anger experienced during a stressful situation. The study involved 69 teens who did not have depression, and 72 diagnosed with depression. The teens were recorded as they conversed with their parents, including both negative and positive conversations. They were evaluated for their levels of emotion, anger, and dysphoric behaviors. The researchers discovered that those with depression experienced a major increase in dysphoric behavior when they were involved in a tense conversation with their parents. The non-depressed participants did not experience this effect. Instead, those with no diagnosis of depression had a stable mood, no matter the tone of the conversation. In addition, Sheeber discovered that both depressed and non-depressed teens did not experience an increased level of feelings or displays of anger. Sheeber explains that the family is significant in its role of developing a teen’s emotional responses. The family is the learning center for both adaptive and maladaptive emotional responses. Sheeber says that, in fact, the family is an incubator, promoting both negative and positive behaviors and verbal responses. Teens that routinely witness adaptive coping techniques and conflict resolution that ends in positive results tend to model those behaviors. Likewise, in the study’s findings there is evidence that suggests that depressed teens may be replicating the elevated emotional volatility they experienced at home. This volatility may play a role in the development of depression. In addition, the depression diagnosed in a teen could be the root of the stress experienced in a family’s home. Future research may include the exploration of this dynamic, including how depression symptoms can affect the ways that families interact. The findings of the study are published in a recent issue of the journal Emotion.

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