So what should you do if your teenager keeps locking himself in his bedroom?
The largest study ever of American adolescents has found teens’ connectedness with their parents and schools - a measure of whether they believe they are loved and cared for - is a powerful predictor of adolescent health and well-being. Even if your teenager never seems to be listening, the study says, it turns out he or she is.
Parents who are in touch with their teenagers, who make a point of spending time with them during the morning or after school, who deliberately communicate values and expectations to them, are more likely to raise teens who don’t smoke and drink or experiment with drugs and early sex.
“Throughout adolescence, parents remain absolutely central in the lives of kids,” said Robert Blum, a professor of pediatrics and director of the adolescent health program at the University of Minnesota and one of the project’s researchers. “We have come to believe as kids get older, parents become less important and peers take over. What this study says is, connectedness with parents protects adolescents.”
The federally funded study was based on a sample of 90,000 seventh- through 12th-graders nationwide and interviews with more than 12,000 of them at their homes. The research is to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers asked teens a list of questions to gauge their connectedness with their parents: How many activities did the teen get to do with a parent in the previous four weeks? How often was a parent present in the morning, or in the evening after school, or at dinner time? Did the parent expect the teen to finish high school or college?
The researchers also asked the teens to record their perception overall - did the teen feel close to a parent, did she feel satisfied with the relationship, did she feel loved and wanted?
“Kids have less emotional distress” when they feel connected, Blum said. They experience “less suicidal thoughts, less suicidal attempts. They are less involved with interpersonal violence. They smoke less, drink less, use marijuana less, have a later onset of the age of intercourse - everything you can think of.”
The study also showed that teens who delayed having sex were more likely to have taken a pledge to remain virgins until they were married. Those teens who said religion was important were more likely to postpone having sex and less likely to use alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.