Parental Support & Control for Adolescents’ Physical Activity: Implications for Positive Youth Development & Substance Use Prevention

Parental influence is known to be a key factor in shaping youth risk and health behaviors, such as substance use and physical activity.

The majority of American adolescents do not get an adequate amount of daily physical activity, which is negatively associated with a range of physical and mental health outcomes including greater risk for substance use.

A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (2021) examined average and lagged associations between perceived parental support and control with adolescents’ moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA).

Overall parental support, tangible support, encouragement and transportation were positively associated with MVPA. 

Parental control, however, was a negative predictor of MVPA.

Perceived parental behaviors appeared to have long term associations (5 years later) with MVPA.

Parental support for physical activity, particularly in the form of tangible support, may be a key factor to include in interventions aiming to promote physical activity during adolescence. This includes parents participating with youth in physical activity or sports, transporting them to physical activity settings or sports, and watching them participate in physical activities or sports. 

In contrast, parents should be encouraged to avoid control behaviors as these appear to lead to lower MVPA among adolescents. These behaviors include ordering or annoying their youth to engage in physical activity or sports.

A key implication of this study is that positive youth development programs for adolescents should include a parent component to effectively promote physical activity and related competence and confidence.

In addition, parent-youth programs should be further expanded to address and integrate other critical youth health behaviors, including nutrition, sleep, stress control and substance use to broaden outcomes and promote greater positive youth development.

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