Nov. 12, 2002 -- Teens who have close ties with their church, teachers, and their moms suffer less stress than other kids.
A study of nearly 300 sets of identical twins shows that despite their similar ages, genders, ethnicity, social class, parents, community, schools, and genetically based traits, twins turn out differently. The study suggests that twins, like other siblings, actively choose niches that allow them to carve out separate experiences from each other.
It's their "non-shared environment" that makes a difference, writes lead researcher Robert Crosnoe, PhD, a researcher with the University of Texas at Austin. Only a few studies have looked at the impact of relationships outside the home, he says.
"By choice, chance, or restraint, they enter into different groups in different settings, and, in the process, form different social ties," Crosnoe writes. "These [differences] may lead to divergence in adjustment, such as differences in emotional health."
His study appears in the November-December issue of Child Development.
In it, he focuses on 289 twin pairs -- boy and girl twins, all about 16 years old -- looking at their relationships inside and outside the home. The researchers also looked at the twins' feelings of emotional distress, based on feelings of guilt and hopelessness.
Only 11% of the twin pairs had the same level of emotional distress. The twins who were less distressed tended to be closer to their mothers and teachers; they also attended church more often.
"In this study, adolescents who had closer relationships with their teachers and who were more religiously involved ... typically suffered less emotional distress," writes Crosnoe.
When it came to certain issues, such as the amount of independence kids got -- the results were more complicated. Overall, the level of independence granted to the teens didn't affect stress levels when they came from comfortable homes.
The exception: In lower-income families, kids whose parents granted them more independence were less distressed.
"These findings emphasize the vital role that ties to adults and conventional institutions can play in adolescent life," he writes.
However, does participation at church help protect teens from stress? Crosnoe says his results suggest that it can.
Also, is distress leading kids to seek support from teachers and churches? Or are less-stressed teens simply more likely to develop better relationships and get involved in churches?
His study did not address these issues, but future research should, Crosnoe says.
SOURCE: Child Development, November/December 2002.