Control or involvement? Relationship between authoritative parenting style and adolescent depressive symptomatology
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- Piko, B.F. & Balázs, M.Á. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2012) 21: 149. doi:10.1007/s00787-012-0246-0
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Among factors predicting adolescent mood problems, certain aspects of the parent–adolescent relationship play an important role. In previous studies, children whose parents had an authoritative style of parenting reported the best behavioral and psychological outcomes. Therefore, the main goal of this paper was to investigate the role of authoritative parenting style and other family variables (negative family interactions and positive identification with parents) in adolescents’ depressive symptomatology. The study was carried out in all primary and secondary schools in Mako and the surrounding region in Hungary in the spring of 2010, students of grades 7–12 (N = 2,072): 49.2% of the sample were males; 38.1% primary school pupils; and 61.9% high school students. Self-administered questionnaires contained items of measuring depressive symptoms (CDI) and parental variables beyond sociodemographics. Beyond descriptive statistics and calculation of correlation coefficients, multiple linear regression analyses were applied to detect relationships between parental variables and depressive scores by gender. Overall, our data support a negative association between authoritative parenting style and adolescent mood problems, particularly among girls. Among boys, only mother’s responsiveness was a significant predictor. Among girls, father’s parenting played a decisive role; not only his responsiveness but also demandingness. Interestingly, mother’s demandingness went together with an elevated depressive score for girls. Prevention programs cannot guarantee success without taking into account the role of parents. Teaching positive parenting seems to be a part of these prevention programs that may include facilitating intimate yet autonomous relationships.
KeywordsDepressive symptomsMood problemsAuthoritative parenting styleProtective factorsParent–adolescent relationship
Depression is one of the most common psychiatric disorders during adolescence that may lead to less positive adjustment in adulthood . Besides biological modifications in this life period, changes in the functioning of adolescents’ social network, particularly with parents and peers may also contribute to mood problems . During adolescence, parental influence is decreasing while at the same time the quest for personal autonomy is increasing . The role of parents, however, is more latent and controversial as compared to the role of peers . It is evident that during adolescence, emotional closeness to parents may diminish and conflicts with them tend to increase . The lack of emotional warmth and less open communication may lead to developing problem behaviors . Despite these processes, however, the parent–adolescent relationship continues to serve as a relevant adaptive and protective mechanism by providing a secure base for adolescent’s well-being . Particularly secure attachment to parents is an important correlate for youth’s psychological adjustment [24, 42]. Besides mother’s positive developmental role , studies also support the adolescent’s relationship with the opposite-sex parent in personality development .
Parenting is thought to exert a powerful influence on psychosocial development, for better or for worse . Among others, it has a long-term impact on learning effective or inadequate coping strategies . In addition, parenting deeply influences children’s development of personality and self-concept [28, 39]. Certain aspects of the self-concept, such as low levels of self-acceptance or self-esteem may lead to cognitive dysfunctions and mood problems . Previous studies found that neglecting, rejecting and dominantly overcriticizing or disapproving parenting practices are the most likely to contribute to the development of depression; these parenting behaviors as aversive reactions destroy their self-esteem and worsen their problem-solving capacity . Whereas parental monitoring provides protection, too harsh parenting control represents another type of depression-prone childrearing that restricts adolescent autonomy. A cold manner of parent–child relationship, together with an excessive regulation of children’s activities, reduces perceived mastery and induces helplessness . Besides, the overprotective, dysfunctional or inconsistent parental practices also affect vulnerability to depression . All in all, the inadequate family climate, conflicts, low family cohesion, lack of parental social support all contribute to adolescents’ mood and behavioral problems; whereas parent–adolescent connectedness, security of attachment and parental monitoring may serve as a protection [1, 2, 4, 27, 35].
Not surprisingly, parenting as a type of family influence recently has received increasing research attention in relation to adolescent adjustment . Parenting style describes parent–child interactions across a wide range of situations independently of parental behavior . Parenting style encompasses a wide range of parent–child relationship including parental warmth, control, support and communication and leads to significant developmental outcomes in children. There are two basic dimensions of parenting styles: responsiveness (parental warmth, acceptance, reflectiveness and involvement) and demandingness (control, monitoring or strictness). In their widely applied two-dimensional classification model, Maccoby and Martin  distinguished four parenting styles: authoritarian (low responsiveness and high demandingness), authoritative (high responsiveness and high demandingness), neglectful/indifferent (low responsiveness and low demandingness), and indulgent/permissive (high responsiveness and low demandingness). The authoritative parenting style has a meaning of both parents’ reflectiveness in terms of their children’s psychosocial needs (e.g., connectedness, trust, emotional warmth) and adequate parental monitoring (e.g., when parents set a curfew and they know where the children are when they are away) . More precisely, it represents both rational and emotional aspects of childrearing. This parenting style is closely connected to adaptive mechanisms of the personality development, such as resilience, internal locus of control or self-esteem [13, 39, 41]. In previous studies, children whose parents had an “authoritative” style had the best outcomes on a number of behavioral and psychological measures. Among others, its protective effects were justified in terms of adolescent depression , anxiety , substance use [18, 19, 32], aggressive and violent behavior, carrying a weapon and poor school adjustment [20, 43]. The authoritative parenting style may be linked to adolescents’ mood problems both directly  and indirectly mediated by parent–child attachment . In a retrospective study, adults who reported previous experiences with authoritative parenting style during childhood were less likely to suffer from depression later .
Although we know more and more about these issues, further research is needed to focus on detecting possible protective factors in understanding the context of adolescent depressive symptomatology in population-based studies. In Hungary, we know much less about the familial protective factors and parenting style particularly in relation to adolescent mood problems. In addition, parenting style may also vary depending on cultural issues; for example, within an authoritarian culture, the parenting styles may act in a different way as compared to a liberal culture . In Hungary, the radical change from socialism to capitalism has brought about changes at a variety of levels, and consumerist (and more liberal) lifestyle may influence not only youths’ well-being but also parental practices as well. Obviously, cultures in Eastern Europe had more experiences with authoritarian than authoritative manner in behaviors .
Therefore, we aimed to detect whether authoritative parenting style might have an association with Hungarian adolescents’ depressive symptomatology. More specifically, the main goal of this paper was to investigate the role of authoritative parenting style (demandingness and responsiveness) and other family variables (negative family interactions and positive identification with parents) in mood problems in a nonclinical (healthy) sample of adolescents. Due to sociocultural, socioeconomic changes and the impact of globalization particularly we anticipated that authoritative parenting style might play a decisive role in this sample similar to previous studies from other cultures. In addition, we aimed to detect possible gender differences. Previous studies reported gender differences not only in occurrence of depression, but also in the structure of risk and protective factors influencing it [9, 35]; particularly in role of the social network . Not surprisingly, social norms still expect greater emotional attachment to parents and behavioral obedience from girls and they also tend to receive greater parental control . Finally, we expected greater role of the opposite-sex parent’s behavior in relation to adolescent mood problems that may be an important issue during the gender role socialization .
Participants and procedure
Data were collected in Mako, southeastern region of Hungary, and the villages in its suburban area in the spring of 2010. All middle and high school students (grades 7 and 12) in this region were invited to participate in the survey. Of the 2,394 questionnaires sent out, 2,072 (aged between 12 and 21; mean = 15.4 years, SD = 1.8 years; 49.2% males and 50.8% females; 38.1% middle school students and 61.9% high school students) were returned and analyzed giving a response rate of 86.5%. The remaining students likely consisted of youth absent or those youth whose parents did not want them participating in the study.
Parents were informed about the study and their consent was obtained. Using a standardized procedure of administration-trained graduate students distributed the questionnaires to youth in each class, after briefly explaining the study objectives and giving the necessary instructions. Students completed the questionnaires during the class period. Student participation was voluntary and confidential.
The questionnaire contained items on sociodemographics, adolescents’ depressive symptomatology and parental variables.
Depressive symptomatology was measured by a shortened version of the original 27-item Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI) that is a self-rated depressive symptom scale for young children adapted from the Beck Depression Inventory for adults . Each item of the original and shortened versions assesses a single symptom, such as sadness, and was coded from 0 to 2. The shortened version of the CDI, based on the current data, was reliable with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.74. We weighted the shortened CDI by a factor of 3.375 (number of original CDI items 27/shortened version items 8 = 3.375) for purposes of comparing this sample with other Hungarian, European and US samples of adolescents. Thus, the mean score and standard deviation for this sample was 8.3 (SD = 8.8), whereas a previous sample of high school students from Szeged (a similar Hungarian sample) in 2008 yielded a mean CDI score of 8.1 (SD = 8.0) . The cutoff CDI score for the upper 10% of the distribution for the current sample was 20 similar to the previous sample mentioned above.
Among the parental variables, two scales of the Authoritative Parenting Index were applied to measure parenting style . The scales were translated and back-translated by bilingual translators and were previously validated and applied in Hungarian-speaking adolescent samples . The first scale was referred to “responsiveness” that contained nine items (e.g., “Mother/Father tells me when I do a good job on things”). The second scale measured “demandingness” and contained 7 items (e.g., “Mother/Father makes sure I tell him/her where I am going”). Response categories were based on the level of agreement with the statements that varied from 1 = not at all to 4 = entirely agree. The final scales were coded from 9 to 36 (responsiveness) and 7–28 (demandingness) and were reliable with Cronbach’s alpha coefficients of 0.75 (both mother’s and father’s responsiveness) and 0.70 (mother’s demandingness) and 0.77 (father’s demandingness).
Besides authoritative parenting style, negative family interactions were measured by using four items from the Family Management Study [14, 16]. Similar to the previous index, these scales were also translated and back-translated by bilingual translators. We asked the students the following: “During the past month, how often have your parents yelled at you/criticized your ideas/put their needs ahead of your needs/hit you?” Response categories were the following: 1 = never; 2 = once or twice a month; 3 = 3 or 4 times a month; 4 = a couple of times a week; 5 = almost everyday. Reliability coefficient (Cronbach’s alpha) was 0.78. Finally, positive identification with parents contained four items from the same study as [14, 16]. The students were asked: “How close do you feel to your parents?”; “How much do you respect your parents?”; “How much do you want to be the kind of person your parent is when you are an adult?”; “How often do you and your parent do things that you enjoy together?” Response categories were the following: 1 = not at all; 2 = just a little; 3 = quite a bit; 4 = a lot. Cronbach’s reliability coefficient was 0.76 with the current sample.
SPSS for MS Windows Release 15.0 program was used in the calculations with a significance level of 0.05. The analysis begins with an examination of the descriptive statistics for both the dependent and independent variables. Student’s t tests were calculated to test significance for differences by gender. Bivariate relationships between variables were tested by calculating correlation coefficients. The primary focus of the analyses was detecting the association between parental variables and depressive symptomatology by using multiple regression analysis. Due to expected gender differences in the role of parental variables as discussed earlier, regression analyses were conducted separately for boys and girls, and age was also controlled for.
Descriptive statistics for depressive symptomatology and parental variables by gender
Boys mean (SD)
Girls mean (SD)
t value significance
Depressive symptomatology (CDI)
t = −5.043
p < 0.001
Negative family interactions
t = 1.904
p > 0.05
Positive identification with parents
t = −0.578
p > 0.05
t = −2.974
p < 0.01
t = −1.928
p = 0.05
t = −1.184
p > 0.05
t = 0.952
p > 0.05
Correlation matrix for bivariate relationships between depressive symptomatology and parental variables by gender
1. Depressive symptomatology (CDI)
2. Negative family interactions
3. Positive identification with parents
4. Mother’s responsiveness
5. Mother’s demandingness
6. Father’s responsiveness
7. Father’s demandingness
The role of authoritative parenting style and family variables in adolescents’ depressive symptomatology: multiple linear regression analysis
Negative family interactions
Positive identification with parents
Among the social influences of adolescent mood problems, the social network variables occupy a special place in the structure of risk and protective factors [23, 35, 41]. Despite the prolifical research in this field, we need more investigations into the role of parents during adolescence. As previous studies revealed, parents still played an important role in their children’s lives and behaviors even in this life period; however, in an altered form as compared to childhood [17, 24, 42]. Whereas we know that parental monitoring is a key protective factor for children’s behaviors and well-being, controlling behavior of the parents may change during adolescence . Emotional connectedness may also decrease due to adolescents’ thriving for autonomy [31, 38]. As previous studies demonstrated, authoritative parenting style provided both control and connectedness for adolescents in an optimal compound [3, 18–20, 32, 37, 43]. Therefore, we applied a measurement of authoritative parenting style to detect its protective role in a sample of Hungarian youth, together with some other parental variables.
Previous studies reported gender differences not only in occurrence of depressive symptoms , but also in the role of its influencing factors [9, 35]. Our findings also show a higher level of depressive score among girls. Gender differences in parenting style, however, may be detected only in terms of mother’s behavior; girls received more responsiveness and demandingness from their mothers, whereas there were no differences in father’s parenting style. It is obvious that girls usually tend to receive more control ; however, as it seems it is related to mother’s parenting only. Thankfully, girls receive not only more control from their mothers, but also more responsiveness.
Overall, our data support the protective role of authoritative parenting style in relation to adolescent mood problems, particularly among girls. Interpreting the predictor structure of depressive symptomatology, our findings suggest that parenting style maybe related to girls’ and boys’ behaviors in a different way. Among boys, only mother’s responsiveness was a significant predictor. Among girls, father’s parenting played a decisive role; not only his responsiveness but also demandingness. Interestingly, mother’s demandingness went together with an elevated depressive score for girls. This may be explained by girls’ striving for autonomy that may get into conflict with maternal control; whereas paternal control may be more accepted by them as a part of the traditional masculine role [23, 35, 44].
All in all, these findings support previous research results on the importance of the opposite-sex parent in the gender role socialization and personality development . Although there was a strong correlation between father’s and mother’s parenting style, their responsiveness and demandingness may have a different role. For boys, the father, for girls, the mother seems to be determinative that may have a longstanding impact on adolescents’ behaviors and later mental health . It is also a highlighted gender difference that despite girls’ increased level of depressive symptomatology, more protective factors are available for them from their social network, such as parents . Besides authoritative parenting style, positive identification with parents also proved to be a predictor among girls in our study.
Our findings also suggest a continued important role of parents in this life period; however, whereas parental control is a strong protective factor for adolescent substance use or externalizing problem behaviors, it does not provide protection against adolescent mood problems on its own [31, 35, 44]. Overt and particularly manipulative control often leads to undermining adolescent self-esteem . Whereas adequate parental control as a part of parental monitoring is a normal behavioral regulation stemming from the parents’ active role in socializing their children to behavioral norms , this does not mean that there is no need for demandingness and parental control even in this age period. These items of parenting style do play an important role when they are part of a strategic parental orientation in a fairly explicit childrearing. In a word, demandingness is beneficial if it is completed with parental responsiveness. The authoritative parenting style included both of them.
While these findings provide clear evidence for the role of parenting in adolescents’ mood problems, there are some important limitations to the present study that should be noted. Because of the cross-sectional study design, our results cannot provide a cause-and-effect relationship. Furthermore, we use self-reported data on depressive symptoms without a clinical diagnosis that does not enable us to determine adolescents’ mental health status, e.g., levels of clinical depression. In addition, due to the specific cultural context of the study the findings may not be generalizable since differences across cultures in parenting practices may result in different patterns of interrelationships. Despite any cultural differences, however, our data support a universal protective role of the authoritative parenting style. Future research should focus on its role in clinical depression as well, particularly applying a longitudinal study design. Further studies should also take into account the socioeconomic background of parents as a possible contributor for parenting style.
As to practical implications, prevention programs cannot guarantee success without taking into account the role of parents. Many researchers suggest that teaching positive parenting seems to be a part of these prevention programs that may include facilitating intimate yet autonomous relationships . This would help avoid mishandling familial conflicts as well. Authoritative parenting style, providing an optimal compound of control and connectedness, help with effective problem solving in the families . In addition, as data from an empirical study suggest, authoritative style is important not only in terms of parenting, but also related to school life: authoritative schools (that are both demanding and responsive) have the best results for youth behavior (e.g., disengagement, behavioral and psychological measures) . Therefore, future research should focus on the complex interactions among authoritative parenting, school life and adolescents’ personality in relation to their depressive symptomatology. Such data may enhance positive youth development and prevention of depression on a long term.
This study was supported by the ETT 012-08/2009 research grant of the Ministry of Health Care (Hungary) and in the frame of the following personal research grant: TÁMOP 4.2.1.-B/09/0/KONV-2010-005.
Conflict of interest