PHILADELPHIA — Maintaining positive relationships with parents during childhood and teenage years contributes to overall health and well-being in adulthood, according to recent research. The study found that adolescents who reported positive perceptions of their relationships with their mothers and fathers experienced a variety of benefits.
This research was conducted over 14 years, tracking approximately 15,700 American adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. The researchers considered several factors such as parental warmth, communication, shared time, academic expectations, and satisfaction with communication.
“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,” says Dr. Carol Ford, the corresponding author from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in a media release.
“Efforts to strengthen parent-adolescent relationships may have important long-term health benefits.”
Those who reported higher levels of these positive factors also reported much better general health into their 20s and 30s. They were also found to be more optimistic about their future and had healthier romantic relationships. Furthermore, they experienced less stress and depression and were less likely to use nicotine or become dependent on alcohol or drugs. The study also discovered a decreased likelihood of unplanned pregnancies.
“Aligned with developmental science supporting the importance of quality of parenting relationships in child and adolescent health, we add to the literature suggesting links to health through the third decade of life,” explains Dr. Ford.
This includes overall health, mental health, sexual health, and substance use in young adulthood.
“Adolescent perceptions of their relationships with their mothers and their fathers were similarly associated with young adult health outcomes, above and beyond associations with adolescent biological sex, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family structure, and history of child maltreatment,” Dr. Ford and her team write in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The researchers analyzed two waves of data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health during this project.
“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,” says Dr. Ford.
The results indicate that efforts to enhance the quality of these relationships could have significant benefits for many important young adult health behaviors and outcomes. The benefits extend far beyond adolescent health and reach into young adult populations across a wide range of health domains.
“Our results suggest that interventions focused specifically on influencing adolescents’ perceptions of relationship warmth, satisfaction with relationships and communication, time spent together, and inductive discipline should be prioritized. Although outreach is often to mothers, our findings suggest that interventions should include both mothers and fathers when feasible,” the team concludes.
“Emerging research can inform such efforts, and more research is needed to explore innovative strategies, such as building peer support or mentoring father networks and mobile messaging interventions targeting fathers, to better engage fathers in adolescents’ health.”
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South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.