New study explores how teacher-student bonds can promote wellbeing

Whitaker, R. C., Dearth-Wesley, T., Herman, A. N., Benz, T. L., Saint-Hilaire, S. A., & Strup, D. D. (2023). The Association Between Teacher Connection and Flourishing Among Early Adolescents in 25 Countries. The Journal of Early Adolescence.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

About the Study

With adolescents’ mental health declining worldwide, there is an urgent need to identify factors that bolster their well-being. Although peer relationships play an important role in promoting adolescent growth, positive connections with adults are also essential. Adult-youth relationships offer companionship, support, trust, validation, and a space for young people to acknowledge their strengths & weaknesses, develop a sense of purpose & meaning, and explore the world around them. This study evaluates the relationship between adolescent flourishing and connections to adults across 25 countries.

Key Findings:

  • Cross-sectional survey data from 33,000 early adolescents indicated stronger teacher connections correlated with a higher prevalence of flourishing. This link remained robust after adjusting for potential confounders, including parent connection.
  • The relationship between teacher connection and flourishing was equally strong in early adolescents with high or low parent connection levels.
  • The overall findings of this study align with existing research on positive youth development:
    • Having social connections and a sense of purpose is valuable for adolescents.
    • Relationships with teachers and parents can bolster positive capacities and outcomes for adolescents.
    • The link between student outcomes with school assets or teacher support doesn’t vary based on family functioning or parent support levels. 

Implications for Mentoring 

While this study extends the current literature on teacher-student relationships, it also provides unique findings about flourishing. It demonstrates how these relationships can strengthen the potential for young people to thrive in life (both in and out of school). However, despite these promising findings, there are still barriers for teachers to form connections with their students. While factors like meager training and lack of availability contribute to the difficulties of developing relationships, to have relationships that are sustainable and meaningful, people need to also account for the positive and negative implications of valuing expertise, confidentiality, and authority and how they can affect relationship boundaries between teachers and students. For instance, while some youths who expect confidentiality are open to disclosing what they need help with, there are limits on how much teachers can fully engage with the disclosure due to concerns about having to report it. By conducting more research on this matter, mentoring experts will learn to develop more effective programming that encourages student-teacher connections.

To read the full study, click here.