Poor relationships with mothers linked to teens’ bad behavior

When it comes to raising children through what can be perilous years of early adolescence, mothers can be powerful if they just hang in there, according to a UW study of 86 African-American families in Seattle.

“The children with the worst behavior associated with a ‘bad’ peer group, had no father at home and had a poor relationship with mom,” explains Psychology Professor Ana Mari Cauce.

An adolescent’s relationship with his or her mother wasn’t a significant factor if the child had a benign peer group. But a teen’s problem behavior increased by hanging around bad peers and having a poor relationship with the mother.

“African-American mothers can have a big effect, even with no father in the house, but it is damned hard,” says Cauce, whose research team tracked seventh- and eighth-grade students for three years.

For families without fathers, it didn’t matter much if the teen’s peers were benign. But if the peer group included troublemakers, the absence of a father at home magnified the negative influence of the friends.