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Moms, Even When Kids Reject Your Advice, It's Still Helping Them
  • Posted May 27, 2024

Moms, Even When Kids Reject Your Advice, It's Still Helping Them

Does advising your teen sometimes feel like talking to the proverbial brick wall?

Don't fret: New research shows that even when your preteen or teen gives your advice a flat "no way," your counsel is probably having an impact.

It may simply be tucked away by your child, ready for use another day.

“The kids are at an age where they're maturing and wanting to make their own decisions," explained study lead author and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researcher Kelly Tu.

"Their immediate response may be resistance or reluctance, but the advice about how to reframe the problem, consider other explanations or think about what they are learning from the experience is sticking with them," Tu said in a university news release. "They may need time to process and evaluate it. Maybe they didn't find it useful in that specific situation they were discussing. But perhaps they came across new experiences in middle school and now they have some strategies to pull from their toolbox because mom gave them different ways to think about academic challenges."

Tu is associate professor of human development and family studies at the university. Her team published the study in the May-June issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

The study focused on 100 mother-child pairs where the child was in the fifth grade. Tu said her team focused on that age (about 11) because it's often a tough time for kids socially and academically as they ready for the transition from elementary to middle school.

The mom-child pair was asked to spend five minutes talking over an academic problem the child recently had.

“We wanted to understand what's happening in actual conversations between parents and children," Tu said. "We focused on academic challenges such as difficulty understanding schoolwork, being bored in class or problems with time management because academic expectations and pressure start to increase during this age. We wanted to know what parents are telling their kids about how to manage these stressors and how the kids are responding."

As part of the study, each child and their teacher also completed a survey focused on how well the child was coping in school and their degree of social engagement. The survey was completed before and after the child's first year in middle school.

According to Tu, when a mother advises her child about tackling a specific academic issue, the child typically receives a response involving an "active" strategy to solve it.

“We did not find that parents told their kids to ignore the problem and not worry about it, as we sometimes see with peer problems," Tu said. "With academics, and especially around the transition to middle school, parents wanted their kids to try and address the challenge."

Three common pieces of advice that the moms gave:

  • Reconsidering or reframing the nature of the problem, or viewing the issue as a "learning experience" (what psychologists call 'cognitive reappraisal');

  • Strategizing, which involves having the kid look for a solution themselves;

  • Help-seeking, which meant pointing the child in the direction of a friend, teacher or family member that might help them sort the issue out.

To no parent's surprise, these pearls of wisdom were often met with dismissal or vague "whatevers" by the child -- an answer like "maybe" or "I don't know."

That does not mean that your child isn't carefully thinking over your advice, Tu said. She said that in adolescence, many kids simply don't want to appear like they are leaning on moms for guidance anymore.

However, based on the reports from kids and their teachers, advice does seem to sink in and help children as they move forward.

Perhaps unexpectedly, kids who had rejected or seemed lukewarm about a mom's "cognitive reappraisal" advice actually tended to improve more at school than kids who embraced the advice, Tu's group found.

Why that is so isn't clear. According to Tu, it's possible that when a child accepts a mom's advice, she or he may simply be doing it to close down the conversation and move on.

In any case, giving kids a variety of advice on topics that matter to them seems key.

“One of the main takeaways from this study is the importance of providing kids with a wide range of suggestions they can apply in different situations, especially when youth are dealing with academic challenges," Tu said. "Even if they don't seem to be receptive in the moment, we are finding that some advice still has longer-term benefits."

More information

Find out more about counseling your child at the Child Mind Institute.

SOURCE: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, news release, May 23, 2024

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