NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Kids have a higher risk of depression and anxiety if their parents tend to fight with each other, or if the parents are overinvolved in the kids’ lives, according to a new meta-analysis.
The research team reviewed 181 papers on potential links between how parents behave and which kids are likely to be depressed or anxious.
It’s impossible to say how important parenting is relative to other factors that might influence depression and anxiety, like bullying at school, study author Marie Yap said, but “it is clear from the wider body of research that by virtue of their role and presence in children’s lives . . . parents have an incredibly important role, both directly and indirectly.”
Yap led the study at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health in Australia.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression affects between 5% and 10% of adolescents. Anxiety, which may include panic disorders, affects about 25% of teens.
Kids tend to first experience depression or anxiety between ages 12 and 18, the authors write.
In the new analysis, stronger links were seen between parenting and depression, including sad moods and decreased interest in activities, as compared to anxiety.
Parents who monitored kids’ whereabouts while giving them an autonomous say in family decisions were less likely to have depressed children.
Parents who were less warm, fought more, were over-involved or generally “aversive” had kids who more often experienced both depression and anxiety, according to the review published online November 18 in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
“In our meta-analysis, (aversiveness) includes harshness, meanness, sarcasm, hostility, criticism, punishment and shaming or rejecting behaviors by the parent towards the teenager, as well as parent-teen conflict,” Yap said.
“So in large part it can be summed as ‘meanness’, but it can also reflect a fracture in the parent-teen relationship where conflict is frequent, intense and unresolved.”
Identifying parental factors linked to depression could help inform prevention efforts, she said.
“There are a lot of factors that seem to be involved in the development of anxiety and depression that we can’t change,” Ron Rapee said.
Rapee is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He is a colleague of Yap’s but was not involved in the review.
Genes, family history of mental health problems, poverty and ethnicity have been independently linked to teen mood disorders, and those are basically immutable.
“Parenting is one factor that should be possible to alter,” Rapee said. “So if we can identify ways that parents influence anxiety and depression in their children, then we can teach parents different ways of acting and prevent the development of these emotional disorders.”
Key messages from this study, he said, are that parents should try to be supportive, warm and open with their kids, give them clear guidelines and boundaries, but at the same time allow them freedom to learn from their own mistakes and not to over-control them.
“But the most important message for parents, perhaps by way of a caveat, is this: Don’t blame yourselves when things go wrong,” Yap said. “Such research evidence should be used to inform and empower parents in enhancing their children’s mental health, not to use for blaming them.”
J Affective Disorders 2013.