Study Finds Adolescents With Strong Parental Relationships Have Better Long-Term Health Outcomes
Amidst rising concern about America’s youth, a longitudinal study of more than 15,000 young Americans found that those who reported more positive relationships with their parents in adolescence reported better general and behavioral health outcomes in young adulthood. The findings suggest that investment in guiding the behaviors of parents of adolescent children will pay dividends in young adult population health.
The study, Associations Between Mother-Adolescent and Father-Adolescent Relationships and Young Adult Health, was recently published online in JAMA Network Open. NYU Silver Professor Emeritus James Jaccard co-authored the paper with a team led by Carol A. Ford, MD, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
The authors analyzed data from two waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health: Wave I (1994-1995, when participants were 12-17 years old) and Wave IV (2008-2009, when participants were 24-32 years old). From Wave 1, they looked at the participants’ responses to questions about both their mothers’ and fathers’ parental warmth, parent-adolescent communication, time together, relationship and communication satisfaction, and academic expectations, as well as their mothers’ use of inductive discipline. From Wave IV, they looked at participants’ self-rated health, depression, stress, optimism, nicotine dependence, substance abuse symptoms, unintended pregnancy, romantic relationship quality, physical violence, and alcohol-related injury. The study controlled for age, biological sex, race/ethnicity, parental educational level, family structure and child maltreatment experiences and separated the data based on relationships with mother and father figures who lived in the home.
The study found that adolescents’ perceptions of their relationships with both their mothers and their fathers were associated with general health, mental health, sexual health, and substance use in young adulthood. The authors wrote “Adolescents who reported warm, loving, close, caring relationships with their parents; spending more time with their parents; and high levels of satisfaction with their relationship and communication with parents reported having higher levels of general health, feelings of optimism, and quality of romantic relationships in young adulthood; they also reported lower levels of depressive symptoms, stress, nicotine dependence, and symptoms of substance abuse. We also found consistent favorable patterns associated with adolescents’ report of maternal inductive discipline.”
“The research drives home two key points about parenting,” said Dr. Jaccard. “First, many people believe that adolescence is a time when parents’ influence on their children wanes as adolescents become more peer focused. Our study as well as other scientific studies suggest, to the contrary, that parents can make a difference in the lives of adolescents and that their impact can be both short-term and long-term in nature. Second, the research underscores the potential importance of prevention approaches for addressing health and well-being: Investing resources into positive parenting during adolescence can potentially reduce problems and difficulties down the line during young adulthood. NYU Silver School of Social Work is evolving unique foci on prevention science that should truly make a difference in U.S. society.”
The study was supported by grant 60721 from the John Templeton Foundation to the Research Core of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This study was also supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services under grant T7IMC30798 Leadership Education in Adolescent Health. Research was also supported by grant P2C HD050924 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The full article Associations Between Mother-Adolescent and Father-Adolescent Relationships and Young Adult Health is available with open access from JAMA Network Open.