National Study Finds Family, School Ties Help Protect Teens From Risky Behavior

September 09, 1997

CHAPEL HILL -- Strong and supportive ties between parents and children help protect adolescents against a variety of risky behaviors, including substance abuse, early sexual activity, pregnancy, emotional distress, suicide and violence.

That's one of the major conclusions of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), the largest and most comprehensive survey of teenagers ever conducted in the United States. Feeling connected with one?s school and, in some cases, one's religion also helps adolescents avoid some of the pitfalls of youth, the study shows.

"These findings offer the parents of America a blueprint for what works in protecting their kids from harm," said Dr. J. Richard Udry, a fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center. Principal investigator for the study, Udry also is Kenan professor of maternal and child health at the UNC-CH School of Public Health and professor of sociology.

"Contrary to common assumptions, Add Health has found that parents -- not just peers --are extremely relevant to their children throughout adolescence," he said.

Parents trying to prevent risky behaviors in children should spend time with teenagers, talk with them, be available to them, set high standards and send clear messages about what they want their children to do and not do, Udry said.

A report on the study appears in the Sept. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Besides Udry, authors of the study include Drs. Michael D. Resnick, professor of maternal and child health and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota; Peter S. Bearman, professor of sociology at UNC-CH; and Robert W. Blum, director of Minnesota's Adolescent Health Program.

The Congressionally mandated study involved asking about 90,000 seventh- through 12th-graders at 145 randomly selected U.S. middle and high schools to complete questionnaires about themselves, their health and beliefs. The project's second phase involved detailed, in-home interviews with 20,000 of the teenagers and their parents. Results reported in the journal focus on the first 12,000 interviews. Findings include: The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development chiefly funded the research, which also received support from nearly 20 other federal agencies ranging from the National Cancer Institute and the National Science Foundation to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Add Health Project Group, based at the Carolina Population Center, includes Drs. Karl E. Bauman, professor of health behavior and health education; Kathleen M. Harris, associate professor of sociology; Jo Jones, center project manager; and computer programmer Joyce W. Tabor.

The Minnesota Analysis Group, which managed the data, includes Drs. Trish Beuhring, Renee Sieving, Marcia Shew, Marjorie Ireland and Linda Bearinger.

Note: Udry can be reached at (919) 966-2829.
Contact: David Williamson

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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