The Impacts of Parenting on Teen Anxiety and Depression

Child maltreatment can drastically increase the risk of developing an anxiety or depression disorder, especially during childhood and adolescence. As a caregiver, here’s what you can do to bolster your child’s emotional well-being.

Alyssa Simone

There is no denying that the rise of anxiety and depression in adolescents is a pressing issue that demands urgent attention. Anxiety, which is characterized by feelings of worry and fear that are strong enough to negatively interfere with one’s daily routine, affects approximately 33% of teens by the time they reach the age of 18. Similarly, symptoms of depression, which is related to overwhelming or pervasive feelings of sadness that can inhibit one from participating in everyday activities, are reported by 20-30% of all high school students. Together, these two mental health disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among teens… but why is this heartbreaking trend present in the first place? Is there anything a parent can do to make the burdens that come with adolescence more bearable for their child?

For starters, the home a child is raised in can have monumental impacts on their mental-well being in the future. This goes back to the nature-nurture debate psychologists have had for decades: whether biological predisposition or environmental influences play a larger role in certain aspects of behavior. And although it has been concluded that both of these factors are vital to development, approximately two-thirds of major depressive disorder (MDD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) is believed to be attributable to nurture. This is incredibly important because one cannot change the cards they were dealt in life. In other words, a parent does not have control over the genetics they pass onto their offspring. However, they do have control over the child-rearing tactics they employ, and this could make all the difference between whether or not a child with an underlying family history of anxiety or depression ultimately develops the disorder. The sake of the child’s mental health is in the hands of their parents, and therefore, this responsibility is not one that should be taken lightly.

Positive methods of parenting are strongly associated with lower rates of depression, higher self-esteem, and future optimism in adolescents. An example of positive parenting is the authoritative style, in which caregivers set reasonable yet flexible limits, consistently express affection and warmth, and hear out their child’s perspective even during disagreements. It involves the skills of caring, communication, teaching, learning, and unconditionally providing for a child’s physical and emotional needs. It encourages an increased sense of self esteem and self efficacy, which are important factors in the low levels of mental health problems correlated with this style. Contrastingly, authoritarian and neglectful parenting styles have been linked to the development of anxiety and depression in their teens. Authoritarian parents strictly control their children, show minimal warmth, and often rely on physically or emotionally punitive methods of discipline. Rather than promoting an open environment where youth feel comfortable voicing their concerns to their parents, it fosters them to internalize their reactions, which is evident in negative psychological outcomes. Furthermore, neglectful parents typically make few demands, but are non-responsive to their child’s needs and produce emotionally withdrawn, fearful, and anxious adolescents. The feeling of rejection from one’s own parents can quickly onset anxiety and depression, along with general feelings of worthlessness and solitude. The greater the severity and frequency of abuse and neglect, the greater the likelihood of anxiety and depression symptoms in the maltreated individuals.

The influence a parent can have on their child’s emotional well-being is long-lasting and profound. They are arguably the most impactful person the teen will ever interact with in their lives. Thus, as a parent, it is absolutely vital to create an environment where the child feels secure, nourished, and loved. This will provide them with the foundation they need to develop resilience in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or any unpleasant experiences life may throw at them. Again, a parent has no authority over these external factors, but luckily, they do possess full control over the way they treat their children, their feelings, and their emotional prosperity throughout life. Anxiety and depression are scarily common among adolescents, and according to the trends, those numbers will only continue to rise in the near future. Now more than ever, it is essential for parents to educate themselves on these positive child-rearing techniques and make every possible effort to demonstrate them to their youth. Together, we can combat the hardships that come with anxiety and depression and replace them with enduring feelings of resilience.