.Henry David Thoreau
Troubled Teens Troubled Later in Life
Well-Adjusted Teens Sail Through Thanks to family
By Jeanie Davis
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
WebMD Medical News
Dec. 6, 2002 -- Teens whose lives are less tumultuous will sail through their adult lives, too. A new study shows that those unlucky kids with problems, whether at home or at school, will end up just as messed up 20 years later.
The key seems to be positive family background, writes Daniel Offer, MD, psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Northwestern University Medical School. His paper appears in the journal Adolescent and Family Health.
Teens with intact families "are significantly more likely to be married and involved in traditional family relationship ... more likely to go to church, exercise, and not engage in long hours of leisure time activity," he adds.
In their study, which began in 1962, Offer and colleagues selected 73 adolescent boys who were all described as "mentally healthy" by parents, teachers, and by the boys themselves. Most were from white, midde-to-upper class families; had at least a C grade average, and attended school in the Chicago suburbs. The researchers kept track of the boys through high school and into college, for a total of eight years. Most of these same teens were interviewed years later.
Some teens -- 23% -- were in the "continuous growth" group. They went through adolescence "with smoothness of purpose," who "manifested self-assurance regarding their progression toward a meaningful and fulfilling adult life," who "came from stable and intact families," and "appeared to have mastered previous developmental stages without serious setbacks." They had no physical illnesses and no major traumas in childhood or adolescence.
Another, larger group -- 35% -- composed the "surgent growth" group. They adapted as well as the "continuous growth" people, but went through more developmental spurts rather than the smooth sailing of the "continuous" kids. They had a few setbacks during adolescence, but were able to fully recover and catch up developmentally. They had minor mood swings and some behavioral problems during adolescence.
The "tumultuous group" -- 21% of the kids -- were the troubled teens, the kids with internal turmoil that caused behavioral problems at school and at home. The problems never required institutionalization, however.
Yet another group -- "the mixed group" -- made up the remaining 21% of kids in this study. They had elements of all the other groups, but didn't fit into any one strict classification.
"Family environment plays a pivotal role in a child's personality development and in that child's later functioning in adult life," writes Offer. Also, personality traits that show up in adolescence typically endure through early adulthood, he adds.
For a longer view of these teens' development, researchers initiated another study. In 1997, years after the initial evaluation they located and interviewed 67 of the study participants -- average age 48.
The "continuous group" guys were "far more likely than the other groups to be married, and to be married to the same person he initially married," writes Offer. They attended religious services more frequently, had less leisure time, had traditional family relationships -- even exercised less -- than the "tumultuous group."
The "surgent group" fell somewhere in between, in high school and later life.
Adolescence is not always a time of great turmoil in people's lives, says Offer. In fact, teens who don't have turmoil aren't "time bombs." "They were normal in adolescence and, 27 years later, were functioning in the same mode."