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Family fun the key to a good life in adolescence

New research has highlighted the benefits of a supportive family and school environment for adolescents’ life satisfaction.

Researchers from the Australian Council for Educational Research and the University of Western Australia have shown a relationship between family cohesion and students’ wellbeing in the middle years.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Studies in January 2018, is the first to examine the effects of school environment and peer relationships on early adolescents’ wellbeing after controlling for the influence of family factors.

The study drew on responses to the 2014 Australian Child Wellbeing Project, which surveyed a representative sample of 5440 Australian students in Years 4, 6 and 8. The following survey questions formed the basis of the new study:

  • How much do you agree with the statement ‘I have a good life’?
  • How often in the past week have you spent time having fun together with your family?
  • In the last six months, how often have you been feeling low?
  • How much do you agree with these statements?
    • ‘My school is a place where I really like to go each day.’
    • ‘At my school there is a teacher or another adult who believes that I will be a success.’
  • This term, how often did you have secrets told about you to others behind your back to hurt you?
  • How much do you depend on your closest friend for help, advice and support?

The study identified distinct life satisfaction profiles for students in each of the target year levels.

At Year 4, having fun together with family was the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. A greater number of students who reported having fun with their family on a regular basis had high life satisfaction compared to students who reported less frequent family fun. For Year 4 students reporting regular family fun, the probability of high life satisfaction was even higher for those who have an adult at school who believes in their success.

At Year 6, the strongest influence on life satisfaction was the frequency with which students reported feeling low. Students who felt low rarely, never or every month reported higher life satisfaction than students who felt low weekly or every day. For Year 6 students reporting frequently feeling low, regular family fun was associated with an improvement in life satisfaction.

At Year 8, having fun with the family was again the strongest predictor of life satisfaction, followed by the frequency of feeling low. Among students who reported frequently feeling low, twice as many students experiencing regular family fun reported high life satisfaction compared to students experiencing less family fun.

Results of the study highlight the importance to young adolescents’ wellbeing of family cohesion through having fun with family members. The researchers note that this could take different forms at different ages, for example playing games at Year 4, jointly watching YouTube videos at Year 6 or watching movies together at Year 8.

The study was not able to investigate the role that parental availability and financial resources play in the ability of families to engage in fun interactions with their children. The researchers note that schools can support parents’ engagement with their children by promoting appropriate online resources that support family cohesion for discussion among family members at common meal-times. ■

Read the full article:
‘Family fun: a vital ingredient of early adolescents having a good life’ by Petra Lietz, Katherine Dix, Liudmila Tarabashkina, Elizabeth O’Grady and Kashfee Ahmed, Journal of Family Studies, 2018.

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