Strong adolescent-parent relationships linked to improved health in young adults
April 3, 2023
Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the New York University Silver School of Social Work have found that adolescents who report strong relationships with their parents have better long-term health outcomes. Study findings, published recently in JAMA Network Open, suggest that investments in improving parent–adolescent relationships could help improve general health, mental health and sexual health, while also reducing substance use in young adulthood.
Prior research shows that positive characteristics of parent-adolescent relationships are associated with improved mental health, sexual health and overall general health, while also reducing the risk of substance abuse and cardiovascular issues. However, these studies have often been limited by small sample sizes, short-term outcomes, differing measures for parent-adolescent relationship characterstics, lack of diversity and a focus only on relationships with mothers rather than relationships with mothers and fathers.
To help address these issues, this study utilized data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Reseachers tested whether adolescents’ reports of specific, measurable characteristics of their relationships with mother and father figures with whom they live were linked to health outcomes measured 14 years later. The researchers looked at data from more than 15,000 adults who were initially enrolled in the study in the mid-1990s when they were between 12 and 17 years old.
“Our goal was to establish a clearer understanding of how different characteristics of mother-adolescent and father-adolescent relationships might be associated with a wide range of favorable outcomes in young adulthood,” said senior study author Carol A. Ford, MD, chief of the Craig-Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine and the Orton P. Jackson Endowed Chair in Adolescent Medicine at CHOP.
In this study, the researchers looked at characteristics such as reported parental warmth, communication, time together and academic expectations as assessed when the participants were between 12 and 17 years old. When those same participants were 24 to 32 years old, they reported on current levels of stress, depression, optimism, nicotine dependence and substance abuse, and other measures of general health. The study controlled for age, race, ethnicity, family structure and other factors and separated the data based on relationships with mother and father figures who lived in the home. More than 10,000 participants were analyzed for the study.
The study found that participants who reported higher levels of mother-adolescent and father-adolescent warmth, communication, time together, academic expectations, relationship or communication satisfaction and inductive discipline reported significantly higher levels of general health in young adulthood. Similarly, they reported significantly higher levels of optimism and romantic relationship quality, and lower levels of stress and depressive symptoms as young adults. Higher levels of adolescent-reported parental warmth, time together and relationship or communication satisfaction were also significantly associated with lower levels of nicotine dependence and substance abuse in young adulthood as well as lower odds of unintended pregnancy.
“Parents may assume that their children tune them out during adolescence, and that their influence is greatly reduced,” said Carolyn T. Halpern, PhD, professor and chair of maternal and child health at the Gillings School and co-author on the study. “I hope our findings reaffirm to parents that their close and positive relationships with their children remain as major contributors to their children’s health and well-being well into adulthood.”
“The overall pattern of these results suggests strong relationships between adolescents and their mothers and fathers leads to better health and well-being in young adulthood,” Ford said. “Efforts to strengthen parent-adolescent relationships may have important long-term health benefits.”
This 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.
Ford et al, “Associations Between Mother-Adolescent and Father-Adolescent Relationships and Young Adult Health.” JAMA Netw Open. Online March 21, 2023. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.3944.
Additional co-authors include Andrew C. Pool, PhD, MSc, research associate for the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at CHOP; Nicole F. Kahn, PhD, MEd, clinical research scientist at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School; and James Jaccard, PhD, emeritus professor at the Silver School of Social Work.
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at email@example.com.