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Bonding to Family and School: Measuring Impact on Adult Outcomes


Family and school connectedness have been identified as significant protective factors for preventing the onset of problem behaviors among adolescents since the early 1990’s[1] when risk and protective factors were first identified as important prevention targets. Since then, many prevention scientists have examined how these characteristics among adolescents have resulted in preventing specific problem behaviors, such as mental health, violence, sexual behavior, and substance use.


But most of the research over the past 20 years was looking at this interaction in terms of its effectiveness for addressing a single target behavior, like substance use alone, or HIV risk. But Steiner, et al, in 2019[2] used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health data to examine the associations between family and school connectedness in adolescence and self-reported health risk behaviors and experiences in adulthood.

These adult risks included:

  • Emotional distress

  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts

  • Intimate partner physical and sexual violence victimization

  • Physical violence victimization and perpetration

  • Multiple sex partners

  • Condom use

  • Sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnosis

  • Prescription drug misuse and other illicit drug use

Unsurprisingly, they found that these powerful domains of family and school bonding measured when adolescents were in grades 7-12 (mean age, 15.4 years) represented significantly lower risks for developing these problem behaviors when they were followed up as adults at ages 24-32 years old (mean age 28.3 years).

What did they find: School connectedness in adolescence had independent protective associations in adulthood, reducing emotional distress and odds of suicidal ideation, physical violence victimization and perpetration, multiple sex partners, sexual transmitted infection (STI) diagnosis, prescription drug misuse, and other illicit drug use. Similarly, family connectedness had protective effects for emotional distress, all violence indicators, including intimate partner violence, multiple sex partners, (STI) diagnosis, and both substance use indicators. Compared to individuals with low scores for each type of connectedness, having high levels of both school and family connectedness was associated with 48% to 66% lower odds of health risk behaviors and experiences in adulthood, depending on the outcome.


This was not measuring the impact of a specific intervention, but rather the characteristics of students in the school survey, through in-home interviews and parent interviews in 1994-1995 [Wave I]; and then followed up in 2008 with in-home interviews when they were 24-32-years-old [Wave IV). School connectedness was measured with elements like ‘feel close to people at school, feel that your teachers care about you.’ Family connectedness included ‘your parents care about you, people in your family understand you, you feel close to your mom/dad.’


As the study pointed out, family and school connectedness is promising in regard to reducing risk behaviors and experiences long-term. There are many strategies for establishing connectedness across child and adolescent development,[3] including school programming with social-emotional learning, positive behavioral interventions, and positive youth development; and parent programming with parental monitoring, supervision, and parent-child communication.


This understanding about how connectedness to family and school provides protections to adolescents as they mature into adulthood is encouraging because the prevention toolbox has been expanding with evidence-based interventions and strategies that build these important features. As the study concluded, “family and school connectedness may have long-lasting protective effects across multiple health outcomes related to mental health, violence, sexual behavior and substance use. Such approaches have the potential to promote overall health in adulthood.”

[1] Hawkins JD, Catalano RF, Miller JY. Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychol Bull. 1992 Jul;112(1):64-105. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.64. PMID: 1529040.

[2] Steiner RJ, Sheremenko G, Lesesne C, et al. Adolescent Connectedness and Adult Health Outcomes. Pediatrics. 2019;144(1):e20183766

[3] Steiner, op.cit., p. 8.

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