Children with strict parents may be more likely to become depressed, study warns

Parents who are too strict with their children can increase their risk of depression later in life.

Researchers asked more than 1,100 teenagers about their parents, such as how strict they were, if they punished them for doing things that weren’t allowed, ignored them when they displeased them, made them feel guilty and brought up their past mistakes .

Based on these questions, they selected 23 young people whose parents had a strict, harsh or manipulative parenting style.

They compared them to children of parents with a kinder parenting style who set rules but made it clear that the rules were because they loved their children and did not overly punish or avoid them for making mistakes.

The children with the overly strict parents were found to have changes in activity across many different genes that could make them less able to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Researchers asked more than 1,100 teenagers about their parents, such as how strict they were, if they punished them for doing things that weren’t allowed, ignored them when they weren’t happy with them, made them feel guilty and took their previous mistakes.

Previous studies have linked these genetic changes to depression later in life.

A questionnaire actually showed that the 23 children with very strict parents had more depressive symptoms, such as feeling sad, lonely or that people didn’t like them – although none had clinical depression.

Dr. Evelien Van Assche, now at the University of Munster, who led the study from the University of Leuven in Belgium, said: ‘Very strict parenting can change how DNA works by causing stress in childhood, making people less resilient to stress later in life and more prone to depression.

‘The kind of strict parents we’re talking about are the ones who will send their child to their room for not eating vegetables, instead of trying to encourage them to eat them, or yelling at them for being late, instead of explaining why they had to be home earlier.’

The study, presented at the annual conference of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Vienna, started by asking more than 1,100 children aged 12 to 16 about their parents.

They were given a 64-item questionnaire to complete.

Children with ‘good parents’ tended to report that they discussed problems with them and felt better and were listened to, while being helped to choose their own direction in life.

What IS a ‘tiger mother’?

American academic Amy Chua came up with the name ‘tiger mums’ in 2011

American academic Amy Chua coined the name ‘tiger mums’ in 2011 to describe the type of parent.

Her book about how she guided her two young daughters through extra homework, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, became a global bestseller.

Her rules included: only accept exam grades of A or higher and never participate in an activity that is not educationally focused.

Her methods went so far as to ban overnight stays and only allow violin and piano lessons in her home if the traditional homework had been completed.

Those with overly strict parents agreed with statements such as their parents punished them, tried to change them, interrupted and blamed them for other family members’ problems, made them feel guilty for mistakes, and that their parent ignored them or quit making eye contact. when they were disappointed with their behavior.

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Researchers looked at the DNA of 21 children with ‘good’ parents and 23 with very strict parents, examining more than 450,000 parts of their genetic code.

They looked at a genetic process called methylation that acts as a dimmer, ‘turning on’ or ‘ringing down’ genes in a way that can influence behaviour.

Children with stricter parents had stronger ‘dimmer switch’ activity across a large number of genes – a pattern of brain activity also seen in adults with depression.

The study suggests that children with harsh parents are more prone to depression, even though none were actually depressed.

This is because they had more depressive symptoms than the children with ‘good’ parents in a questionnaire.

This meant, for example, that they were less likely to report problems such as not looking forward to things, feeling sad or losing sleep.

Dr. Van Assche said: ‘We discovered that perceived harsh parenting, with physical punishment and psychological manipulation, can introduce an additional set of instructions on how a gene is read to become hardwired into DNA.

‘We have some indications that these changes in themselves may predispose the growing child to depression.

‘It does not happen to the same extent if the children have had a supportive upbringing, which is less overwhelming.’

Professor Christiaan Vinkers, from Amsterdam University Medical Center, who was not involved in the research, said: ‘This is extremely important work to understand the mechanisms of how negative experiences in childhood have lifelong consequences for both mental health and physical health.

‘There is much to be gained if we can understand who is at risk, but also why there are different effects of strict parenting.’

WHAT IS DEPRESSION?

Although it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.

Depression can affect anyone at any age and is quite common – around one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their lives.

Depression is a real health condition that people can’t just ignore or “talk out of”.

Symptoms and effects vary, but may include constantly feeling sad or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.

It can also cause physical symptoms such as sleep problems, fatigue, low appetite or sex drive, and even feelings of physical pain.

In extreme cases, it can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.

It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.

Source: NHS Choices

Jacky

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