Protective Factors Continue Protecting Teens As They Age Into Adulthood

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
Healthy Minds
January 23, 2020

The Fairfax County Youth Survey (and lots of national research) shows that youth with three or more protective factors in their lives are more likely to manage stress well, make better choices, and develop healthy habits. Youth with more protective factors in their lives report better physical and mental health, better academic performance, and less engagement in risky behaviors such as substance use.

For nearly two decades, we have promoted Three to Succeed, our campaign to increase protective factors – such as healthy relationships with caring adults and involvement in community and extracurricular activities – in the lives of Fairfax County youth so they can fully thrive. Exciting new research shows that these benefits last well into adulthood; we should consider them long-term strategies that will help youth throughout their lives.

Two recent studies in the journal JAMA Pediatrics highlight these long-lasting effects:

  • One study looked at a range of interpersonal protective factors (positive relationships with peers and adults in school, family, and community settings) and found that adults who had more protective factors as teens were much less likely to report a depression diagnosis or poor mental health. The study is notable because it showed that protective factors’ benefits extended to adults who did and who did not report Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs, which are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood, such as experiencing violence or having a family member attempt or die by suicide, and that are strongly associated with a wide range of poor health and other outcomes in adulthood). This is important because it shows that protective factors benefit everyone and that they can help mitigate the impacts of ACEs.  
  • A second study specifically looked at the relationships teens had with their families. People in their late 30s to early 40s who reported positive family relationships as teens had “significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms from early adolescence to midlife than did those who experienced less-positive family relationships.”

Additional research on the importance of protective factors into adulthood is emerging all the time, and for outcomes beyond those associated with mental health. Learn more about #TheFactorsThatMatter and the simple things anyone can do to help youth be healthy and successful on the Three to Succeed website

Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a monthly digest of our most recent articles.