The screaming matches between teenager Kelly Osborne and her mother Sharon have made their television show The Osbournes a byword for family dysfunction.

But arguments between mothers and adolescent daughters could be good for both and may actually keep the lines of communication open, a Cambridge University study shows.

Girls' tantrums may be their way of keeping their mothers up to date with their lives, the British Psychological Society's annual conference was told yesterday. Dr Terri Apter, a senior lecturer at Newnham College, spent four years studying 23 sets of mothers and daughters, sitting in on their fights.

Teenage boys argue with their mothers on average every four days, and each row lasts six minutes. But girls argue with their mothers every two-and-a-half days and each quarrel lasts 15 minutes.

Dr Apter said: "The rows often start from absolutely nothing. But they rapidly escalate to where the daughter is saying, 'I hate you' and the mother is upset. But ... daughters often use arguments to update mothers about their lives and what they are doing and what is important to them. Arguments ... sometimes keep the relationship going."

Dr Apter, who has two adult daughters, said most mother-daughter rows were over curfews, boyfriends, money and schoolwork. "Girls want their mothers to be perfect and give the ideal response, and they get frustrated if their mothers do not live up to that."

But she warned against fathers trying to act as a peacemaker. "Daughters get frustrated with their fathers but tend to give them the cold shoulder and ignore them. They will often deliberately rile their mother just to elicit a response from them."