Are Adolescents’ Mutually Hostile Interactions at Home Reproduced in Other Everyday Life Contexts?

Tatiana Alina Trifan

One of the central issues in parenting research concerns what children bring with them from the family to other interpersonal contexts. In most families, children learn to respect others and live in harmony, which are the skills they take with them elsewhere. In some families, however, interactions are not harmonious, but are characterized by mutual or reciprocated hostility. Extreme examples are the coercive cycles described by Patterson (1982), the association between parents’ low perceived power and their proneness to harshness when faced with a difficult child (Bugental, Lewis, Lin, Lyon, & Hopeikin, 1999), and the intimate connection in abusing families between children’s overt opposition and parents’ readiness to use severe punishment rather than reason (Trickett & Kuczynski, 1986). Some research has focused on what these kinds of parent-child interactions mean for children’s behaviors towards others at school and in other contexts, but little is known about the possible connections between mutually hostile parent-child interactions and mutually hostile interactions in other interpersonal contexts. Are these interaction patterns transferred from home to other settings?

In our study, we examined the extent to which individual configurations of exposing others to hostility and being exposed to hostility by others are transferred from the family to other everyday life contexts. We used hostility as a broad term to encompass verbal and physical aggression, defiance, and unfriendly behavior. We focused on adolescents, because adolescents spend much of their time in several interpersonal settings on a daily basis, which gives us an opportunity to compare patterns of behavior at home with those at school and in free-time. In order to study mutually hostile interactions, we differentiated them from interactions in which the person is only the target of others’ hostility or only the perpetrator of hostility towards others, in each of the studied contexts. We first examined whether there are naturally occurring groups of adolescents who are engaged in mutually hostile interactions with their parents, and in other everyday life contexts – school, and free-time. Second, we examined whether the adolescents involved in mutually hostile interactions at home were the same adolescents who exposed others and were exposed to others’ hostility in the other contexts. We also examined whether being involved in mutually hostile interactions at home increases the likelihood of being involved in mutual hostility in the other contexts one year later.

In line with our hypotheses, we found profiles of adolescents who both exposed others and were exposed by others to hostility in each of the interpersonal contexts we analyzed (at home, at school, with peers and teachers, and in free-time). Cross-sectional analyses showed that the adolescents involved in mutually hostile interactions at home tended to be the ones who were involved in mutually hostile interactions with school peers, with teachers, and in free-time. Also, longitudinal analyses showed that the adolescents involved in mutually hostile interactions at home were more likely to be involved in mutually hostile interactions with peers at school and in free-time one year later, compared with adolescents not involved in mutual hostility. In agreement with our hypotheses, for the main contexts these high-conflict youths had greater impulsivity and anger dysregulation than their exposed-only counterparts across all the interpersonal contexts we considered. This study extends previous knowledge of mutually hostile interactions by showing that these patterns of mutual hostility are not specific to the home alone. They can be transmitted from the home to other interpersonal contexts.


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