The conventional family has changed over the last few decade but regardless of parent genders or family structure, adolescents' perception of proper family functioning has changed little, says a new study.

Previous studies have pointed to families without a regular structure, such as headed by a lone parent or including the children of other partners, etc. as leading to a greater risk of teenagers living in such families turning to drugs or being violent, having mental health problems or even exhibiting criminal behavior.

According to the new study by the Working Group on Adolescence of the Andalusian Society of Family and Community Medicine published in the Spanish journal Atención Primaria, family structure is no longer decisive in an adolescent's perception of proper family function.  Rather, when children turn into adolescents this leads to changes in family patterns and roles.

"Previously, the nuclear family, which is the most common model in Western society and is made up of only the father, mother and children, was presented as the family type best able to tackle these changes, and to ensure the best upbringing for children," Alejandro Pérez Milena, lead author of the study published by Atención Primaria and a family doctor at the El Valle de Jaén Health Centre, told Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas (SINC).   "At the start of the study, teenagers from nuclear families had a better perception of family function, but this has changed to become equal with those of other family structures."

Family structure has changed but kids have adjusted fine, says study.  Credit: Juan Soriano./ SINC

Older teenagers (16 to 18 years) have improved their perception of family functionality, regardless of factors such as family structure or gender, which the authors of the study believe may be related to the progressive delay in their leaving home.

"However, social reality shows that family structure has changed over recent years, with families with different structures being increasingly common", points out Pérez Milena. "During adolescence, families should focus on promoting a positive family dynamic, regardless of their structure".

The researchers, all of whom are members of the Study Group on Adolescence of the Andalusian Society of Family and Community Medicine, carried out four surveys over 10 years (1997-2007) on 1,356 students from two secondary schools, one of which was rural and the other urban, using the Apgar family test, which measures a teenager's satisfaction with the functioning of his or her family.


Alejandro Pérez Milena, María Luz Martínez Fernández, Inmaculada Mesa Gallardo, Rafael Pérez Milena, Francisco Javier Leal Helmling e Idoia Jiménez Pulido. Cambios en la estructura y en la función familiar del adolescente en la última década (1997). Atención Primaria, septiembre de 2009.