Young adults with strong parent relationships have better long-term health outcomes

In a recent cohort study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers in the United States determine how the relationship with their parents affected the long-term health of young adults or adolescents. Moreover, the current study examines the impact of this relationship on nearly all health domains of adolescents, including sexual and mental health, as well as their risk of substance abuse and developing cardiovascular disease.

Study: Associations Between Mother-Adolescent and Father-Adolescent Relationships and Young Adult Health. Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Background

Existing research evaluating inherently complex parent-adolescent relationships has several limitations. For example, these studies are often short-term and do not include diverse populations, thereby limiting the generalizability of their results. Many of these studies also use various strategies that make it challenging to identify specific characteristics for intervention strategies to target.

Additionally, most studies do not focus on health outcomes in all domains. Lastly, some studies separately evaluate the effects of father-adolescent and mother-adolescent relationships, which might influence their overall results.

Nevertheless, studies examining the quality of parent-adolescent relationships on the holistic and long-term health of the adolescent could support future investments in this area.

About the study

In the present study, researchers used data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) and performed their analyses between February 2019 and November 2020. Despite a response rate of 80.3%, 19,560 of 20,745 enrolled adolescents completed wave I, 15,701 of whom completed wave IV.

All 20,745 in-school adolescents were in the seventh to twelfth grades in the 1994-1995 academic year. The researchers evaluated adolescent health outcomes up to the third decade of life, using data from 15,701 adolescents who completed the 2008-2009 school year.

A secondary analysis was also conducted to measure relationships between wave I participants’ self-reported characteristics of their relationship with their fathers and mothers.

To this end, wave I participants were asked about all aspects governing relationships with their parent figures. For example, parental warmth was measured using the mean score of three items about love, closeness, and caring.

Participants’ reports from wave IV were subsequently used to quantify all health behaviors and outcomes. General health, for example, was rated on a scale of one to five, in which five indicated excellent health.

Two-sided statistical tests were performed between February 2019 and November 2020. Importantly, separate models were performed for mother-adolescent and father-adolescent relationships.

A regression model was used to evaluate associations between all parent-adolescent relationship domains and outcomes accounting for covariates like gender, race, and ethnicity.

Results

The study findings demonstrated the significance of the quality of parenting relationships on adolescent health across multiple health domains up to the third decade of their lives. Moreover, certain modifiable characteristics of parent-adolescent relationships were associated with consistent patterns.

Accordingly, all adolescents who reported loving and caring relationships with their parents, spent more time and had healthy communication with parents enjoyed good overall health, were optimistic, and enjoyed quality romantic relationships in young adulthood. These young adults also reported having no depressive symptoms, stress, and substance dependence.

Despite variabilities in measurement strategies, the adolescents’ perception of their relationship with their parents had long-lasting impacts on their health behaviors and outcomes. Notably, parental academic expectations appeared inconsistently associated with young adult health outcomes.

Although adolescent-reported satisfaction with communication was consistently associated with health outcomes, the extent of communication remained unquantified. This finding highlights the intricacy of behaviors, such as communication, within parent-adolescent relationships.

This perception also had a consistent effect on emotional health in young adulthood. However, the associations between injury and physical violence outcomes were weak or inconsistent, thereby suggesting the role of other factors within this health domain.

The results suggested prioritizing inductive discipline in interventions focused on influencing adolescents’ perceptions of their relationship with their parents. These interventions should cover both fathers and mothers, if applicable.

There should be a greater emphasis on improving the engagement of fathers in adolescents’ health through innovative strategies, such as mentoring fathers through mobile messaging. These intervention strategies should go beyond targeting early childhood and improve poor-quality relationships in early adolescence when needed.

There remains a need for more research on relationships between parents and youths who belong to minorities based on their sexuality. Moreover, efforts to support parent-adolescent relationships must account for diversity in family relationships, as primary adult caregivers might look different across families. Notably, family structure was noticeably different across the study population, with many living in single-parent homes.

Conclusions

In a nationally representative sample with well-defined parent-adolescent relationship characteristics, the current study showed how adolescents’ perceptions of their relationships with parents affected their health. From a policy perspective, investments to improve parent-adolescent relationships might substantially improve the health of all young adults in the U.S across a wide range of health domains.

Journal reference:

  • Ford, C. A., Pool, A. C., Kahn, N. F., et al. (2023). Associations Between Mother-Adolescent and Father-Adolescent Relationships and Young Adult Health. JAMA Network Open 6(3). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.3944

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