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February 2018: Healthy Connections with Adolescents

Adolescents need positive connections with people they can turn to for advice or assistance. The importance of these connections is underscored by the HHS Office of Adolescent Health’s (OAH) national call to action, Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow® (TAG), which identifies supportive people as one of the Five Essentials for Healthy Adolescents. OAH launched TAG to promote adolescent health and healthy development in a variety of settings, including home, school, health care, faith-based, work, and out-of-school and community-based programs.

While adolescents become more independent and may seem resistant to advice, they still want and need safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with supportive people to listen to them and advise them. Many people can play this supportive role. Parents, coaches, neighbors, grandparents, teachers, supervisors, program directors, spiritual leaders, peers, and mentors can all provide a safe and secure presence that contributes to adolescents’ current and long-term health.

The Benefits of Healthy Relationships

Teens who have positive connections with supportive adults are less likely than adolescents who lack those connections to engage in drug and heavy alcohol use, be delinquent or involved in crime, or be homeless later in life. Teens who have one or more caring adults in their lives are more resilient than adolescents who do not have these relationships. For more information, see the OAH research review on positive connections.

Adolescents who participated in certain resilience-building programs, particularly those with parents, experienced decreases in problems with anger and aggression, levels of perceived stress, susceptibility to peer pressure, and alcohol and illicit drug use, as compared with adolescents who did not participate in such programs. Teens who have caring teachers or religious involvement are more likely to have a successful transition to adulthood than adolescents who do not have those supports.

Emotional support, such as talking and listening, and acknowledging difficulty plays an important role in forging meaningful relationships with adolescent boys as well as adolescent girls.

Nurturing Better Connections: What You Can Do

  • Talking with Teens – How You Make a Difference: Tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your adolescent and helping manage relationships with other people. (HHS Office of Adolescent Health)
  • Talk. They Hear You.: Public service announcements, a smartphone app, and other resources to help parents and caregivers start talking to their children early about the dangers of alcohol. (HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • Safety Net Assessment Tool: Assess your program’s ability to build supportive relationships with adolescents. (REACH: Supporting Military Families through Research and Outreach)

Featured TAG Talk: The Crisis of Connection for Adolescent Boys

OAH sponsors a series of TAG Talks videos on adolescent health that can be viewed online and have accompanying discussion guides for family and professionals who work with youth. In The Crisis of Connection for Adolescent Boys, Dr. Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at New York University, explains how boys' intimate friendships in early and middle adolescence support their mental health. By late adolescence, many boys speak of losing these close male friendships and reveal feelings of loneliness and isolation. The video illuminates the dangers of assuming that boys don’t want or need close male friendships and the importance of fostering positive friendships that can help adolescent boys thrive.

The TAG Talks video series is co-sponsored by OAH and the federal Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs. All videos in the free series are presented in full-length and short segments.

Tweets on Healthy Connections

Use the sample tweets below to share this information with your networks.

  • Youth need positive connections with supportive people to grow and thrive. Learn why supportive connections are so essential for #TeenHealth http://bit.ly/2A0Ixy4 #TAG42Mil
  • Study finds relationships help youth re-engage w/ #school http://bit.ly/2C4RYwT #edchat #TAG42mil
  • Connections to supportive people help adolescents grow up healthy - that’s the goal of #TAG42mil http://ow.ly/XBwW5
  • Did You Know? Research indicates #friendships improve health. New video makes the connection to help boys & young men thrive http://bit.ly/2gVODtS
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on August 23, 2018