Study: Even as Teens, Young Adults, Kids Favor Parents Over Friends

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Aug 15, 2018

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Once adolescence hits full throttle, it’s not unusual to feel sidelined as a parent. But rest assured, a recent study has found that, when asked to choose between an option beneficial for parent versus a benefit for a friend, kids in their teens and 20s are more likely to pick their parent.

“Parents continue to have an enduring impact on their children as they become adults — and on their decision-making,” says senior author Jennifer Silvers, a University of California, Los Angeles, US, assistant psychology professor.

The study, published in Psychological Science, recruited 174 participants ages 18 to 30, who were asked to play a series of games designed to make them choose between the interests of a parent or friend. Participants each began with $5, or 50 points, and were asked to play as if the points were redeemable — their choices affecting their winnings. Half the rounds would end with winnings going to the parents and losses went to the friends, and the other half had winnings going to friends, while losses went to parents.

The games were designed so that, the more the participant played, the greater the trade-off between the interests of parent and friend.

Prior to the game, participants were also asked to complete a questionnaire to gauge their feelings for the two relationships. The survey revealed on the whole, participants had strong, positive emotions toward their parents, but felt a stronger bond with their friends.

Yet, during the actual experiment, participants were more than 25% more likely to make choices that favored their parents.

“When push came to shove, they prioritized their parents,” says Silvers. “Even though not much was at stake, the preferences were quite consistent.” This held true across the wide age range.

When interviewed post-game, participants were left with mixed feelings about their choices.

“Many of them seemed conflicted,” says lead author Joao Guassi Moreira, a doctoral student in Silvers’ laboratory. “Several said slight variations of, ‘Even though it was hard to not pay as much attention to my friend, I felt like I owed it to my parent, who has helped me so much.'”

This sentence sums up most of adolescence and beyond, when teens’ developmental needs push them to invest in building relationships outside their family. It’s also a reminder that the long slog of parenting really does stick.

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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