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The following was reported by the Add Health Project, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This article explores the specific characteristics of the home and school environments that make a difference in the health of American youth.

Home Environment

The following characteristics were examined to determine what (if any) impact they had on the above mentioned adolescent at risk behaviors.

  • Parent and Family Connectedness. This factor represented the highest degree of closeness, caring and satisfaction with parental relationships — feeling understood, loved, wanted and paid attention to by family members.
  • Parental/Adolescent Activities. The number of different activities engaged in with parent or parents in the past four weeks.
  • Parental Presence. The parent present before school, after school, dinner, bedtime.
  • Household Access to Guns. Do or do not have easy access to guns at home.
  • Household Access to Substances. Do or do not have easy access to cigarettes, alcohol, illegal drugs at home.
  • Family Suicide or Attempts. The suicidal attempts and/or completions by any family member in the past 12 months.
  • Parent Disapproval of Sex. Parent disapproval of adolescent having intercourse now.
  • Parent Disapproval of Contraception. Parent disapproval of adolescent using contraception now.
  • Parental School Expectations. Mothers’ or fathers’ expectations for high school and college completion.The Results

By far the single most important factor in protecting teens from the problems mentioned above was parent and family connectedness. When parent and family ties were present, virtually all ages were helped in all problem areas. Running a close second was parental presence. Parental school expectations was also one of the more important protective factors

On the other hand, the factor which had the most pervasive negative influence was family suicide or attempts. Presence of family suicide or attempts negatively affected teens across all ages and all problem areas. As one might expect, household access to substances negatively affected teens’ substance use, while household access to guns negatively affected violence.

The research also indicated the family characteristics that protected teens from early sexual intercourse and pregnancy were parent and family connectedness, perceived parental disapproval of adolescent sex and perceived parental disapproval of adolescent contraception.


The big winner in the school category was school connectedness (teachers treated students fairly, teens feel close to people at school, get along with teachers and other students). School connectedness, like parent and family connectedness, positively affected every age group across every problem area.

Finally, there are emerged three individual characteristics that appeared most beneficial in helping teens avoid problems. The first is high self-esteem. The adolescent feels they have a lot to be proud of, likes themselves and feels loved and wanted. The second is a good grade-point average (good doesn’t seem to be defined in the study). The third characteristic that contributed to teen’s success and has a positive affect in many problem areas is a religious identity.

Not surprisingly, adolescent’s connections to family and school make a difference to their health and well being. Parents and family were traditionally, and are currently, still central in positively affecting the lives of teens. If the study indicated parents make a difference in the lives of their adolescent by being home at key points of the day; by conveying high expectations for school success and behavior; by limiting access to elicit substances and guns and most importantly by instilling in their children a sense of belonging.