Over the past 30 years, prevention science in the adolescent health field has moved from interventions focused on preventing single problem behaviors to efforts employing a dual approach, addressing risk factors that predict problems while simultaneously nurturing protective factors and promoting positive development. Through an examination of previous research and empirical case examples with vulnerable youth, this article considers the hypothesis that adolescents’ sense of connectedness to caring adults acts as a protective factor against a range of risk behaviors. Multivariate analyses with existing data examined indicators of youth–adult connectedness among two groups at high risk for poor health outcomes: (1) mentor–youth relationship quality in an urban, ethnically diverse sample of students in a school-based mentoring program (2014 survey, N=239); and (2) parent–youth connectedness in a statewide sample of high school students who reported homelessness in the past year (2013 survey, N=3,627). For youth in the mentoring program, a high-quality youth–mentor relationship was significantly associated with positive social, academic, and health-related behaviors. Among students who experienced homelessness, all measures of parent connectedness were significantly associated with lower sexual risk levels. Collectively, findings from these analyses and previously published studies by this research group provide evidence that strong, positive relationships with parents and other caring adults protect adolescents from a range of poor health-related outcomes and promote positive development. Youth–adult connectedness appears to be foundational for adolescent health and well-being. Program, practice, and policy decisions should consider what strengthens or hinders caring, connected youth–adult relationships.
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© 2016 American Journal of Preventive Medicine