Thursday, October 07, 2010

Secret to Healthy Adult Functioning: Close Family Relationships as a Teen, Study Finds

/PRNewswire/ -- Teens who feel they are an important part of their family or who have a trusted family confidant are more likely to become healthy functioning adults, according to a study recently released by the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

The study is one of many completed with data from the Simmons Longitudinal Study, one of the nation's longest running studies on mental health predictors. Led by Simmons School of Social Work Professor Helen Reinherz, the recent study found that adolescents who reported feeling highly valued as a family member at age 15, compared to their peers had higher self-esteem, fewer interpersonal problems, and a lower likelihood of tobacco use, at age 30.

The study, lead-authored by Dr. Angela Paradis of the Harvard School of Public Health, also shows that adolescents who reported having a family confidant, compared to their peers had a substantially reduced risk for mental health concerns in adulthood, such as suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and drug disorders. These individuals also had better occupational and career functioning at age 30.

Further, the study results suggested that confiding family relationships were significantly more influential than confiding peer relationships in promoting positive functioning as an adult.

The authors conclude that the unique influences of each of these family factors on areas of adult functioning continues to affirm the need for broad-based programs aimed at strengthening adolescent-parent relationships.

"These results show that there are several aspects of teen-parent relationships that need to be targeted in work with families," said Reinherz. "Our findings also demonstrate that despite the push for peer relationships during adolescence, the family remains a central factor for teens."

For more than 33 years, Reinherz has served as principal investigator of the Simmons Longitudinal Study, one of the nation's longest studies of predictors of good or poor mental health from early childhood onward. Funded for many years by the National Institute of Mental Health and more recently by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the study tracked nearly 400 participants from the time they entered kindergarten in 1977 until their late 30s today.

The researchers interviewed the children, their parents, and teachers at key points in the youths' lives, looking for major risk factors that are likely to lead to mental health problems in adulthood, and for protective factors that might serve as buffers from life's rough spots. The study was designed to help parents, teachers, mental health professionals, policy makers and others improve early identification and treatment of mental health issues.

The study authors included Paradis, Dr. Rose Giaconia of the Simmons Longitudinal Study, Reinherz, Dr. William Beardslee of the Department of Psychiatry at Children's Hospital Boston, and Dr. Garrett Fitzmaurice of the Harvard School of Public Health.

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