Symptoms of depression often first appear in early adolescence and are influenced by many factors. Puberty, co-occurring mental health issues, abuse, and other elements all affect a teen’s chances of developing significant depressive symptoms. Family functioning is one element that is particularly impactful on how children manage feelings and reactions as they age. Children who are raised by parents who engage in volatile and hostile disagreements learn to cope with their own emotions by internalizing or externalizing. The negative repercussions of witnessing abusive behavior can significantly increase the child’s likelihood for depression. However, children who see their parents express love and respect before, during, and after conflict learn how to manage their own emotional challenges in much more beneficial and healthful ways.
Lauren Papp of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin sought to expand the existing literature on adolescent depression by further exploring the effect of parental conflict. For her study, Papp examined data gathered from a large sample of teens who were part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. She looked at the age of puberty onset, the conflict style of the parents, and the depressive symptoms of both children and parents. Papp found that, consistent with previous research, girls were more likely to have symptoms of depression than boys. In addition, the symptoms appeared early and were more significant for girls who had reached puberty by age 11 than for girls who reached puberty later.
When Papp looked at the relationship between parental conflict and teen depression, she found that poor conflict resolution predicted higher levels of depression in the children and also affected the trajectory of depressive symptoms. Specifically, the children who were exposed to negative conflict strategies were more likely to be depressed at age 11 than those who witnessed healthy conflict strategies. These same children also had steeper increases in depressive symptoms as they aged. Papp believes that these findings clearly demonstrate the importance of addressing the family as a whole when working with depressed teens. She added, “Hence, clinicians who treat children’s symptom distress are encouraged to adopt a familywide perspective and consider multiple domains of parental and interparental functioning.”
Papp, L. (2012). Longitudinal associations between parental and children’s depressive symptoms in the context of interparental relationship functioning. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 21.2, 199-207.
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