Section 2: Healthy settings for young people in Canada – Examining the contexts for young people’s health
2 Examining the Contexts for Young People’s Health
by Frank Elgar
The family is the pre-eminent social system in a young person’s development. Although adolescence is typically a time when young people begin to challenge parental controls and to be influenced by their peers, the family can be an integral source of support through the school years. It is useful to examine the home setting, so that its relationship to health behaviours in school-aged Canadians may be better understood.
In the 2006 cycle of the HBSC, we asked students about their family structure, general happiness at home, how well they could communicate with their parents, parental interest and encouragement regarding school, to what extent they felt understood and trusted by their parents, parental opinion and expectations, arguments with parents, and thoughts of leaving home.
We report on all these aspects of young people’s relationships with their parents, concluding with a description of two measures – living with both parents and a parent trust and communication scale – to be applied in our discussions of behaviours and outcomes in later chapters.
Data on parental interest and encouragement regarding school are presented in relation to the school setting discussed later in this chapter.
Approximately 2 out of every 3 students in Canada live with both parents (Figure 2.1). This finding underscores the makeup of Canadian households: there are fewer nuclear families and greater numbers of blended and single-parent families.
It is important to note that whether or not students live with one or both parents is not, in itself, a risk factor for poor health. Not living with both parents is, however, often associated with parental separation or divorce and sometimes with joint custody shared by parents who live in separate homes. Such disruption to the family unit does tend to be associated with poorer health outcomes.
Most students report that they have a happy home life (Figure 2.2). Reports of happiness at home are less common in the higher grades and this trend appears to be more pronounced in girls than in boys. Reports of decreased happiness at home at older ages, however, are normal and might result from increased needs for autonomy and independence from parents in adolescence. Despite this pattern, as many as 70 to 77% of students in Grade 10 report having a happy home life.
When asked how easy it is to talk to their parents, a higher proportion of students indicate that it is easier to confide in their mothers than their fathers (Figures 2.3 and 2.4). Overall, however, as students move from Grade 6 to Grade 10, fewer of them report finding it easy or very easy to talk to either parent. Significantly fewer girls than boys report finding it easy to talk to their fathers.
Gender differences are also found in young people’s perceptions of parental understanding and trust. As shown in Figures 2.5 and 2.6, more boys than girls report being understood by their parents and trusted by their parents.
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