A child who can develop a pleasant, positive relationship with a teacher or two is likely to be healthier both physically and mentally as an adult than children who do not. This student-teacher relationship was even more important than the relationship with classmates, according to a study recently published in the American Psychology Association’s School Psychology Journal.
“This study suggests that improving student relationships with teachers could have important, positive, and lasting effects beyond academic achievement,” said study author Jinho Kim, PhD, assistant professor at the Department of Health Policy and Management of Korea University. in a press release. “It could also have important health implications in the long run.”
The study used data from nearly 20,000 participants from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health (Add Health), a statewide study that followed US children from seventh grade to adulthood for 13 years from 1994. Add Health researchers tried to identify factors in adolescence that affect adult health. The surveys were conducted in multiple “waves” throughout the period in order to get a picture of the children’s lives as they progressed through their teenage years and transitioned into adults.
Dr. Kim noted that previous research has looked for a link between the social life of teenagers among their peers and its impact on their physical and mental health as adults. However, these studies have not proven that one causes the other and that other factors are not so or more important.
He tracked children’s general health, physical health, mental health, and substance use, and found that those who had good relationships with teachers and peers in middle and high school reported better mental and physical health in their mid-20s to have.
However, after checking the children’s family life and background (by studying pairs of siblings together), he concluded that the only significant association between good teacher relationships and adult health was.
The family background factors have all confused significant associations with peer relationships, with the exception of possible adult depression.
The take away
A child’s relationships with teachers may be more important than we realized, and schools should invest in teacher training to build supportive relationships with students.
“This is not something that most teachers get a lot of training in,” said Dr. Kim, “but it should be.”
Teachers should be encouraged to create a supportive classroom where students are comfortable speaking to their teachers and asking for help. Parents should talk to their children about asking teachers for help when something is wrong. If students can view their teachers as supportive mentors rather than taskmasters, it could improve their attitudes towards the school and themselves as they grow.