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Mean Moms Make Mean Girls

Photograph by Getty Images

Drama queens beget drama queens. Or so the science says.

A team of psychologists, led by Gary Glick at the University of Missouri, looked at a rarely examined area of the parent-child dynamic: how moms' friendships influence their teen daughters' relationships and behaviors with other girls. What they found was an instance of negative behaviors demonstrating greater—or, at least, more obvious—influence over kids than positive ones.

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To figure this out, researchers had kids in 5th, 8th and 11th grade fill out questionnaires—along with their moms—that test for the quality of their most important relationships. The psychologists then tested the kids and their parents on their emotional health. Those moms who signaled she and her besties often got on each others' nerves or got upset with each other frequently were also more likely to have kids who similarly showed antagonistic characteristics in their close friendships.

Your first and best act might be to step back and think about your own friendships.

Interestingly, the flip side of that wasn't apparently true. Moms' positive relationships with her friends didn't hold the same kind of sway on their kids' friendships. Researchers found no connection between the two, but one psychologist argues that may have to do with how relationships are defined in the study, Francine Russo writes in her parenting column for Time magazine. Relationships are defined as either positive or negative, when, in reality, good relationships can be a bit more complex than that.

This doesn't mean those moms prone to squabbles and frequent "break-ups" with buddies shouldn't consider working toward having less contentious feelings toward their close friends. The study found that moms who had a lot of negativity in their friendships, no matter how much true affection lay beneath, had kids who reported higher levels of anxiousness and depression than the moms who managed to maintain more positive interactions with their friends. Glick said this higher likelihood of depression was actually independent of whether the moms themselves reported being depressed.

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So if you're trying to help your tween through a rocky friendship, your first and best act might be to step back and think about your own friendships. And go from there.

Whether fathers have the same kind of influence is unclear. Researchers couldn't get enough fathers to agree to take part. (Come on, dads!)

These findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

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