Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the association between mother-child and father-child communication and children's life satisfaction, and the moderating effect of communication with stepparents. Design/methodology/approach – Data from the 2006 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children: WHO-collaborative Study in Scotland (n ¼ 4; 959) were analysed using multilevel linear regression analyses. Findings – There was an association between both mother-child and father-child communication and young people's life satisfaction. Relationship with mother was particularly important, especially among girls. Among boys, not living in a traditional two-parent family was a predictor of low life satisfaction, even when communication with one or more parents was easy. This effect was independent of economic disadvantage. The quality of the relationship with stepparents moderated these associations very slightly and in single father families only. Research limitations/implications – Strategies at the population level are recommended to enhance an open atmosphere in the home where young people feel they are able to talk to their parents about things that are bothering them. Further work is needed to understand the needs of high risk groups such as boys living in single father households and girls living in single mother and step families. Originality/value – The mental well-being of children and adolescents is a priority area for the World Health Organization and the Scottish Government but is a relatively new field with little known and no measures as yet identified. This study considered the impact of determinants related to the family on adolescent life satisfaction. The context of lone father families, an often missed category, was considered, as was the moderating effect of step-parents.