Teen Health Better If Parents Understand Daily Challenges

New research suggests the better a parent understands the daily experiences of their teen, the better the mental health of the teen.

Moreover, having a parent who “gets” a teen’s daily life may influence the way a teen’s body responds to stress on a cellular level, improving physical health.

The study is reported in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

“These results provide preliminary evidence that parental accuracy regarding their adolescent’s daily experiences may be one specific daily parent factor that plays a role in adolescent health and well-being,” says Lauren J. Human, Ph.D., of University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.

In the study, 116 parent-teen pairs completed daily diaries for two weeks. The adolescents and their parents rated the daily demands on the teen (how much work they had at school and at home) as well as the positivity of their day together.

The teens also rated their general levels of depression and stress.

The parents’ ratings were more accurate when the teens generally had more positive days at home, and when the parents and teens generally had more positive days together.

Parents’ accuracy in rating their teen’s daily demands was not significantly associated with adolescent depression or stress levels.

Agreement or the congruency of ratings between parent and teen (on daily demands) did make a difference in stress levels and depression.

“However, adolescents whose parents more accurately perceived the positivity of their day together reported lower depression and perceived stress,” Human and coauthors write.

In other words, when parents and teens generally agreed as to whether they had a good (or not so good) day together, the teens had better psychological adjustment.

The study also looked at how parental perceptions affected “biological mechanisms relevant to health.”

That included tests of immune functions involved in inflammation, including cellular responses to the stress hormone cortisol.

Accurate perceptions by parents of a teens positivity were associated with greater “glucocorticoid sensitivity.”

This means that the teens “immune cells were more sensitive to anti-inflammatory signals from cortisol,” said Human.

Immune responses to stress are thought to be an important link between harsh family environments and physical health, according to the researchers.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases of aging.

“Overall, these findings provide novel evidence that how well parents understand their adolescents’ day-to-day experiences may play a unique role in both adolescent psychological functioning and glucocorticoid sensitivity,” Human and coauthors write.

They add that their study is the first “to link the accuracy of others’ perceptions about one’s daily life to immunological processes potentially relevant to health.”

Human and colleagues believe that parental accuracy may play a unique role in adolescent health, deserving of further research.

“Although questions remain about causality and generalizability,” they conclude, “these findings begin to shed light on day-to-day parent-adolescent relationship processes that may affect adolescent psychological and physical health.”

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health