Parenting and Depression among Children/Adolescents: A Brief Literature Review

sad child hugging momVarious studies have recorded a significant link between depression and parenting styles characterized by low care and high control (McGinn, Cukor, & Sanderson, 2005; Mezulis, Hyde, & Abramson, 2006).  Using the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI) developed by Parker, Tupling and Brown (1979, cited in Enns, Cox & Clara, 2002) , McGinn et al. (2005) were able to separate adolescents into four categories according to the style of parenting by which they were raised. One of these categories, affectionless control, closely resembles the authoritarian parenting style in Baumrind’s classification system and is characterized by low care and high overprotection. McGinn et al. (2005) found that persons exposed to this parenting style were more depressed than persons who experienced a different style of parenting.  Another group of researchers (Radziszewska, Richardson, Dent, & Flay, 1996, cited in McPherson, 2004) found that uninvolved (or neglectful) parenting was associated with the highest level of depressive symptoms among adolescents while the authoritative parenting style was significantly related to lower symptom levels.

While some researchers study broad categories of parenting styles, others have operationalized this construct by examining specific behavior dimensions such as care and protection. McFarlane, Bellissimo, and Norman (1995, cited in McPherson, 2004) used this method and found that parental care was negatively associated with depression. That is, the higher the amount of care or warmth displayed by mothers and fathers, the lower the risk of depression. [showmyads]

In some studies, researchers have used parental rejection as an indicator of low parental care or warmth. In one such study, Robertson and Simons (1989, cited in McPherson, 2004) found that adolescents who felt rejected by their parents were more likely to be depressed than those who did not feel rejected. It is believed that parental rejection delays the process of parental attachment in children and reduces their willingness to incorporate parental values and beliefs. This in turn may result in diminished ability to monitor internal feelings and behavior (Rohner, 2004, cited in Yahav, 2006; Yahav, 2006).

Subsequent researchers have made a distinction between parental rejection and low parental warmth (Xia & Qian, 2001, cited in Yahav, 2006; Palmer & Hollin, 2000, cited in Yahav, 2006). Results of their studies revealed that while rejection from both parents was associated with the development of symptoms in children, maternal warmth was more highly correlated with children’s pathology than paternal warmth. Thus, while being accepted by both parents is important, emotional warmth, particularly on the part of mothers, also appears to have a significant effect on children’s psychological well-being (Yahav, 2006).

Several other studies have examined the relative impact of maternal and paternal parenting styles on children’s emotional health. McGinn et al. (2005), for example, found that maternal care and control were related to depression while paternal care and control were not. In like manner, Mezulis et al. (2006) found that cognitive vulnerability to depression was more strongly related to negative maternal parenting than to negative paternal parenting. Nevertheless, findings in this area are inconsistent as other researchers have found the converse to be true (DeMinzi, 2006; Patock-Petham & Morgan-Lopez, 2007). Patock-Petham & Morgan-Lopez (2007), for example, found that among university students, feeling rejected by one’s father had a greater influence on depression than feeling rejected by one’s mother. According to the researchers, the results of that study suggest that having a father with an authoritative parenting style can be protective against depression for both males and females living in two-parent families.

Parental monitoring is another behavior that has been found to be inversely related to depression (McPherson, 2004). However, while monitoring is essential, balance is needed as overprotection may increase the risk of adolescent depression. Yahav (2006) studied the relationship between externalizing and internalizing symptoms in children and their perceptions of parenting behavior. Internalizing children reported higher levels of both parental overprotection and rejection than a control group of non-symptomatic children. Parental overprotection appears to be experienced by children as intrusive, controlling and infantilizing rather than promoting independence and autonomy (Parker, Tupling, & Brown 1979, cited in Yahav, 2006). Levy (1970, cited in Yahav, 2006) also argued that parental overprotection disrupts the child’s emotional balance because the child feels unaccepted and deficient.

In a review of the literature on family processes in depression, Sheeber, Hops and Davis (2001) discussed four potential mechanisms by which interactional family processes may work to increase adolescents’ vulnerability to depression – stress/support, social interactional, cognitive, and affective regulation. Of particular relevance here is the stress/support mechanism which suggests that ongoing stressful family relations and the absence of supportive relationships may increase the risk of adolescent depression. More specifically, an inverse relationship has been found between depression and the level of support, attachment and approval provided by the family (Sheeber et al., 2001). Other researchers have found that parents of depressed preadolescents display less positive, rewarding and responsive behaviours than parents of non-depressed children (Messer & Gross, 1995).


De Minzi, M. C. R. (2006). Loneliness and depression in middle and late childhood: The relationship to attachment and parental styles. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 167 (2), 189-210.

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Enns, M. W., Cox, B. J., Clara, I.(2002). Parental bonding and adult psychopathology: Results from the US national comorbidity survey. Psychological Medicine, 32(6), 997-1008.

McGinn, L. K., Cukor, D., & Sanderson, W. C. (2005). The relationship betweenparenting style, cognitive style, and anxiety and depression: Does increased early adversity influence symptom severity through the mediating role of cognitive style. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(2), 219-242.

McPherson, M. E. (2004). Parenting behavior, adolescent depression, alcohol use, tobacco use, and academic performance: A path model. Unpublished master’s thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia. Retrieved April 14, 2009, from

Messer, S. C., & Gross, A. M. (1995). Childhood depression and family interaction: A naturalistic observation study. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 24, 77-88.

Mezulis, A. H., Hyde, J. S., & Abramson, L. Y. (2006). The developmental origins of cognitive vulnerability to depression: Temperament, parenting, and negative life events in childhood as contributors to negative cognitive style. Developmental Psychology, 42(6), 1012-1025.

Patock-Petham, J. A., & Morgan-Lopez, A. A. (2007). College drinking behaviours;mediational links between parenting styles, parenting bonds, depression, and alcohol problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviours, 21(3), 297-306.

Sheeber, L., Hops, H., & Davis, B. (2001). Family processes in adolescent depression. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 4(1), 19-35.

Yahav, R. (2006). The relationship between children’s and adolescents’ perceptions of parenting style and internal and external symptoms. Child: Care, Health and Development, 33(4), 460-471.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

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