Is there another way to predict adolescents’ depressive symptoms than by trait-like parenting characteristics, such as affective support (Barber, Stolz, & Olsen, 2005)? Drawing from a systems perspective (Lollis & Kuczynski, 1997) and Social Domain Theory (Smetana & Asquith, 1994), this paper suggests that parental responses in key situations might be important for the development of adolescent depression: (a) adolescent-parent conflict; (b) dangerous situations; (c) need of help with a problem. These three situations require steering adolescents’ behaviors in a responsive way, i.e., combinations of demandingness and responsiveness. Thus, the roles of authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and indifferent parental responses in these key situations will be rested.
In order to have a standard of comparison, well-established parenting styles (Barber, et al., 2005; Steinberg, 2001) will be evaluated, too. Lack of support has been found to predict depressive symptoms. The prediction by behavior control and the support-by-control interaction will be tested as well, for a better comparability to the test of parental responses in specific situations.
A total of 108 Swedish adolescents aged 14-15 (67 girls, 41 boys) filled out questionnaires at school. For depressive symptoms and parental support, well-established American scales were used. Behavior control was measured by scales tapping parental control and solicitation of information, respectively. 3 (situations) by 4 (parental responses) by 2 (parent genders) scales of parental responses in key situations were newly developed. For each type of situations, the respondents received two typical examples (e.g., having problems with a friend or a girlfriend/boyfriend as an example of a problem) and rated the frequencies of various parental responses. Because all mother and father scales were highly correlated, they were standardized and added (complementary analyses with either mother or father data yielded similar results; so did analyses including adolescent gender).
Parental responses in key situations explained 30% of variance of adolescent depression. Authoritative responses to problems were associated with low levels of depression. Moreover, indifferent responses to all three kinds of situations predicted higher levels of depression.
Main effects of parenting style variables explained 14% of the variance of depression. Adding the interactions between support and parental control and solicitation explained additional 8% of variance. Most of this effect was due to an interaction between acceptance and solicitation. Authoritarian parenting predicted the highest depression levels whereas supportive styles predicted low depression. When entering either reactions in key situation first into the regression equation and parenting styles next, or vice versa, each of them predicted significant portions of variance above and beyond the other. However, reactions in key situations produced the larger increase in explained variance.
Albeit cross-sectional data do not allow for causal conclusions, this study has generated important hypotheses for future studies: If parents constantly bother their adolescent child with requests to talk about something, in combination with low levels of support, the child is likely to show elevated levels of depression. Even more deleterious might be adolescents’ experience to be left alone when they need their parents.
Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) 13th Biennial Meeting, March 11-13, 2010, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Bidraget är en reanalys av medförfattarnas examensarbete under första författarens handledning.