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Positive student-teacher relationships improve long-term health

Teenagers who feel supported by their teachers experience benefits that extend far beyond the classroom. A study published by the American Psychological Association has found a link between positive student-teacher relationships and long-term health benefits.

While friendships are obviously very important to adolescents, the researchers did not find the same positive health benefits associated with peer relationships.

“This research suggests that improving students’ relationships with teachers could have important, positive and long-lasting effects beyond just academic success,” explained study co-author Dr. Jinho Kim. “It could also have important health implications in the long run.”

Dr. Kim said that previous research has also suggested that social relationships in adolescence may be linked to health outcomes in adulthood. This could be because poor relationships can lead to chronic stress, which increases the risk for developing diseases.

However, it has remained uncertain whether the link between teen relationships and lifetime health is causal. For example, other factors like different family dynamics could contribute to both relationship problems in adolescence and to poor health in adulthood. 

Furthermore, most relevant studies have focused on teens’ relationships with their peers, and not their relationships with teachers.

To investigate, Dr. Kim analyzed data from nearly 20,000 participants who were involved in the Add Health study, which followed participants for 13 years from seventh grade into early adulthood. The volunteers included more than 3,400 pairs of siblings, who answered questions including: “How much do you agree that friends care about you?” and “How much do you agree that teachers care about you?” 

When they were adults, the study participants self-reported on their physical and mental health and were tested for various markers of physical health, such as blood pressure. 

As expected, Dr. Kim found that participants who had reported better relationships with both their peers and teachers in middle school and high school also reported better physical and mental health in their mid-20s.

However, when he controlled for family background by looking at pairs of siblings together, only the link between teacher relationships and good health in adulthood remained significant.

The results suggest that teacher relationships are even more important than previously realized, and that schools should invest in training teachers on how to build warm and supportive relationships with their students, said Dr. Kim. “This is not something that most teachers receive much training in, but it should be.”

The study is published in the journal School Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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