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Teenagers Who Feel Loved and Understood Engage in Less Risky Behavior, Says NIH Study


September-October 1997

Teenagers with high levels of connectedness to parents, family members and teachers, and more frequent parental presence in the home are less likely to use drugs, attempt suicide or become sexually active at an early age, according to the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Feeling loved, understood and paid attention to reduces high-risk behavior by teens regardless of whether a child comes from a one- or two-parent household, the study concluded (Michael D. Resnick, PhD, et al., "Protecting Adolescents From Harm," Journal of the American Medical Association, September 10, 1997, pp. 823-832; Barbara Vobejda, "Love Conquers What Ails Teens, Study Finds," The Washington Post, September 10, 1997, p. A1).

The adolescent study was conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The $25 million study was sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. From September 1994 through April 1995, researchers conducted in-home interviews of 12,118 adolescents in grades 7 through 12 drawn from an initial national school survey of 90,118 adolescents from 80 high schools and their feeder middle schools.

Overall, 25.7% of adolescents interviewed reported being current cigarette smokers, with 9.2% of females and 10% of males smoking at least 6 cigarettes per day. 17.9% of students reported drinking alcohol at least monthly, with 9.9% reporting weekly use. One quarter of the students interviewed reported ever having smoked marijuana, with 12.7% reporting having smoked marijuana at least once during the previous month. About 6% of the students reported using marijuana at least 4 times during the previous 30 days.

Two variables associated with higher adolescent use of cigarette, alcohol and marijuana were easy household access to the substances and family history of recent suicidal behavior. 31.4% and 28.5% of all respondents reported easy access in the home to cigarettes and alcohol respectively. Student employment requiring more than 20 hours per week was also associated with higher rates of cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use, emotional distress and early sexual debut. Some researchers suggest these associations may be due to excessive leisure income, exposure to older peers, and fatigue.

The researchers said that the study reinforces the importance of parents remaining involved in their children's lives through their teen years. According to researcher J. Richard Udry, PhD, professor of maternal and child health at UNC-Chapel Hill, "Parents are just as important to adolescents as they are to smaller children." Researchers also concluded that classroom size and teacher experience had less to do with student success and positive behavior than to the closeness students felt to their teachers.

Dr. Michael D. Resnick - Adolescent Health Program, University of Minnesota, Box 721, 420 Delaware St., SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, E-mail:

For a copy of the study, contact the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at (301) 496-5133.