A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (2022) and reported in NIH New Releases examined longitudinal survey data on more than 3,000 adolescents ages 11-14 recorded before and during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Study findings showed that supportive relationships with family and friends and healthy behaviors, like engaging in physical activity and better sleep, appeared to shield against the harmful effects of the pandemic on adolescents' mental health.
Psychosocial factors, including poorer quality and functioning of family relationships, more screen time, and witnessing discrimination in relation to the pandemic, also predicted youth distress.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA, said “This study helps us understand how modifiable lifestyle factors affect the mental health and well-being of adolescents, and it can inform the development of interventions to protect youth during a major life stress.”
Out of all the possible predictors considered, positive relationship variables, such as talking about plans for the coming day with parents, participating in family activities, and those related to healthy behaviors like physical activities and better sleep were among the top predictors of high positive affect and were also protective against stress, anxiety, and depression.
Conversely, more screen time activities, including social media and video games, as well as witnessing racism or discrimination in relation to the coronavirus, emerged as important predictors for negative affect.
One key implication of this study is that health-care providers, teachers, coaches, and parents should provide adolescents with motivational programs and support for engaging in positive lifestyle behaviors, avoiding negative behaviors, and staying connected with youth through family activities.