Teenagers who have positive relationships with their parents tend to have better outcomes as adults

Parenting teenagers can be challenging, but a new study shows that those efforts ultimately pay off.

When teenagers report higher levels of “parental warmth”,” communication” and time spent together, they are more likely to experience significantly higher general health, optimism and romantic relationships in early adulthood. 

That’s according to a paper by US paediatricians and social workers published in JAMA Network.

“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,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr Carol Ford from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Efforts to strengthen parent-adolescent relationships may have important long-term health benefits.”

Using data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, the study followed a cohort of more than 15,000 adolescents aged 12-17 years in 1994-95 through to young adulthood (24-32 years) in 2008-09.

The researchers found positive teen-parent relationships were also associated with lower levels of stress, depressive symptoms, nicotine dependence and substance abuse in young adults.

The data was gathered by asking secondary-school-aged participants a series of detailed questions about their relationships with each parent, including topics such as warmth, communication, time together, academic expectations, discipline, relationship satisfaction. 

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Measures for parent-adolescent relationship characteristics

The aim of the study was to better understand the significance of parent-adolescent relationships for adult health. The study looked at the characteristics of mother-teenager and father-teenager relationships and tried to define what a “warm” relationship is, and what “communication” means.

The researchers followed up with the participants once they reached adulthood, to ask about health, mental health, sexual behaviour, substance use and injury.

“Adolescents’ perception of parental warmth had the most consistent favourable associations with adult outcomes across domains,” the researchers found.

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