SBC Life Articles

Strong Relationships with Parents and Schools Protect Teens

Adolescents who are emotionally connected to their families and schools are generally healthier than those who are not, according to an article in the September 10 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Michael D. Resnick, Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues provide the first report as a result of the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (Add Health). It includes data on 90,118 American adolescents. In the study, the authors used information from 12,118 adolescents from grades 7-12.

The researchers found that when adolescents feel connected to their parents and their school, they are less likely than other adolescents to:

• Suffer from emotional distress;

• Have suicidal thoughts and behaviors;

• Use violence;

• Smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or smoke marijuana.

The research also indicates that they have their first sexual experience later than adolescents who are not connected to their parents and schools. The report indicates, "… parental disapproval of early sexual debut was associated with a later age of onset of intercourse."

Contrary to the assertions of "outcome-based education" models that suggest academic pressures can harm a child's self-esteem, the report states, "… parental expectations regarding school achievement were associated with lower levels of health risk behaviors."

The researchers write: "It is clear that when demographic characteristics are controlled, social contexts count. Specifically, we find consistent evidence that perceived caring and connectedness to others is important in understanding the health of young people today. While these findings are confirmatory of other studies, they are also unique because they represent the first time certain protective factors have been shown to apply across the major risk domains."

The researchers found several factors that increased the risk for emotional distress among adolescents including working twenty or more hours per week, appearing "older than most" in class, and repeating a grade.

The researchers write: "… The role of parents and family in shaping the health of adolescents is evident." They found that the physical presence of a parent in the home reduced the risk of substance abuse. However, physical presence was less significant in the overall health of adolescents than was parental connectedness, such as feelings of warmth, love, and caring from parents.



Risky Business

As with previous studies, the University of Minnesota researchers found high rates of risky behaviors among adolescents:

Suicide: 10.2 percent of girls and 7.5 percent of boys reported having considered suicide without actually attempting it over the past year, while 5.1 percent of girls and 2.1 percent of boys reported suicide attempts.

Cigarettes: 25.7 percent of adolescents reported being current smokers, with 10 percent of males and 9.2 percent of females smoking six or more cigarettes per day.

Alcohol: 17.9 percent of students reported drinking alcohol more than monthly, with 9.9 percent drinking at least one day per week.

Marijuana: 25.2 percent reported ever having smoked marijuana, with 12.7 percent reporting that they had smoked at least once during the previous month.

Sexual Behaviors: Approximately 17 percent of seventh and eighth graders and nearly half of ninth through twelfth graders indicated that they had had sexual intercourse.

Pregnancy: Among sexually experienced females aged fifteen years and older, 19.8 percent reported having been pregnant.

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