Teen Relationships: More than Long Phone Calls and Dating Dramas

Washington, DC – How adolescents build and maintain relationships is important to their overall development and transition into adulthood. Teens with quality relationships tend to have better psychological heath, improved academic performance and success in relationships as adults. The lack of such relationships is associated with negative outcomes, such as delinquency and psychological problems. Fortunately, research suggests that programs targeting the development of social skills are effective among adolescents.

Child Trends reviewed more than 360 research studies to better understand how to help teens gain the skills needed to develop quality relationships with parents, peers (romantic and platonic), family members and other adults. The findings are summarized in a new research brief, Helping Teens Develop Healthy Social Skills and Relationships: What the Research Shows about Navigating Adolescence. These findings are based on an extensive review of research studies done in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Several factors and programs can help teens develop social skills and quality social relationships. For example:

  • Positive, warm and supportive relationships with parents and low levels of family discord enhance adolescents’ social skills and relationships.
  • Mentoring programs appear to be useful in promoting social relationships with parents, mentor and/or peers.
  • Education and social skills training programs can help by addressing the aspect of a relationship that is most problematic, like conflict resolution. Programs targeting additional specific skills, like self-control, behavior regulation and self confidence also enhance skills development.

“The research indicates that relationships with parents matter in how successful teens will be in finding and developing quality relationships with peers and other adults,” said Elizabeth Hair, Ph.D., research associate at Child Trends. “While more long-term studies are needed, evidence from the best research available indicates that intervention programs focused on improving social skills work.”

The brief was released today along with a companion Web-based What Works table that enables users to easily find “what works,” “what doesn’t work,” and some “best bets” to promote quality relationships and positive social skills in adolescents.

Child Trends’ American Teens series summarizes and “translates” key research and evaluation studies on preventing teen pregnancy, encouraging better eating and exercise habits, promoting mental and emotional health, motivating teens in school, promoting positive social skills and encouraging responsible citizenship.

Knight Foundation’s Community Partners Program works in 26 U.S. communities to identify promising approaches to locally identified needs. With Knight funding, several Knight communities are concentrating on better lives for children and families. The Child Trends American Teens work helps the communities better identify strategies that might work locally for at-risk youth.

View and download this brief at www.childtrends.org/files/K3Brief.pdfClick here to view the interactive What Works table and the rest of the American Teens series.

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.