Study links parent-adolescent relationship quality to teen and maternal depression

Relationship quality between mother and child is significantly linked to maternal and adolescent depression, according to a study published in Children and Youth Services Review.

An estimated 350 million people have been diagnosed with depression. This large number is alarming, and the scientific community is struggling to find risk factors and suitable treatment options. Current research suggests a link between mother and adolescent depressive symptoms. Scholars have suggested parental depression as a risk factor for adolescent developmental problems, and it is possible that maternal depression could be a predictor of adolescent depression. The children of depressed mothers have a higher risk of experiencing depressive symptoms. Research has also suggested that the relationship between a parent and child could influence the link between maternal and adolescent depression. However, research investigating this link is limited.

It is important to research families with a higher-risk of depression because maternal depression is linked with “an increased risk of maltreatment and adolescents living in risky family contexts tend to demonstrate higher levels of mental health symptoms.” Therefore, the current study investigated the effects of maternal depression and adolescent depression, as well as the possible effect parent-adolescent relationship quality has on this association.

The study used information from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect, which was “designed to assess risks and outcomes associated with child maltreatment over time.” While over 1300 children were involved initially, the study only had 278 children. Researchers wanted children whose primary caregiver remained the same over the course of the study. Children were interviewed at multiple waves spanning from 4 years old until they were 14 years old. The assessments occurred at youth ages 8, 12, and 14 years old. Researchers measured maternal depression, youth depression, and relationship quality between adolescents and their mothers.

The results of this study demonstrated “significant associations between maternal depression, mother-adolescent relationship quality, and adolescent depression.” These findings were consistent with the family systems theory, as mother and adolescent perceptions of relationship quality were reciprocally associated over time. In other words, when mothers thought the relationship quality was high, adolescents reported that the relationship quality was high; this was also true the other way around. In general, if both mother and adolescent thought the relationship quality was high at adolescent age 12, both reported the quality to be high two years later. This result could have major implications, as positive parent-adolescent relationships may possibly protect high-risk adolescents from the developing depressive symptoms and other negative outcomes.

The researchers of the current study noted one important limitation. At the start of the study, youth depression at age 8 was reported by the mother. However, at later assessment points, depression was reported by the adolescent. It is possible that mothers who struggle with depression may have a more negative and possibly incorrect view of youth behavior. Future research should examine the specific aspects of the parent-adolescent relationship, other than quality, that may influence depressive symptoms. More specific dimensions, such as closeness, communication, conflict, and autonomy may be worth examining to see if they have an impact on maternal and adolescent depression symptoms.