Friday, July 8th, 2011
A new study by a Wellesley College psychologist has tapped into a way parents can protect teens from symptoms and feelings of depression–practice honest, open, and authentic communication.
In the study, conducted by assistant professor of psychology Sally A. Theran, both male and female teens who felt they could share their opinions openly and let their parents know about their authentic lives benefited by having fewer depressive symptoms than teens who felt less comfortable saying things that are important, upsetting, or confusing to them.
The study collected information from middle-school students in three cities and towns. Consent forms were sent to parents, and then the students with permission filled out questionnaires.
Teenage girls have long been identified as experiencing depression more frequently than boys, but the data from the study shows that authentic, honest relationships affects both genders. Theran found that 31 percent of girls’ depressive symptoms, including fatigue, loss of interest, and appetite changes, and 47 percent of boys’ symptoms, could be attributed to factors relating to the authenticity of the teens’ relationships with their parents.
“Authenticity in relationships with parents gets us about a one-third, or half, of the way toward explaining the individual differences in depressive symptoms. Understanding the role that authenticity in relationships plays in both boys’ and girls’ lives can help us to buffer children from depressive symptoms.,” Theran said in a statement.
The findings did not find that authenticity and honesty with peers similarly affected rates of depression. So it appears that the parental relationship is uniquely able to influence teens’ emotional well-being and stave off depression. “Peers may be important, but perhaps authenticity has a different meaning for peers than it does for parents,” Theran wrote in the report.
Theran had this advice for parents: “I’d encourage parents to keep open lines of communication with their children – and yet remember that they are authority figures, not friends. Clearly, teenagers who could be open and honest with their parents benefited by having fewer depressive symptoms.”
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