According to new study, adolescent melancholy and behavioural issues are on the rise, and parental sadness may be contributing to this surge, regardless of whether the dads and children are genetically linked.
“A lot of research focuses on depression within biologically linked families,” said Jenae Neiderhiser, a co-funded Social Science Research Institute faculty member and distinguished professor of psychology, human development, and family studies at Penn State. “There is now more information available for adoptive and blended families.”
The researchers examined naturally occurring changes in genetic relatedness between parents and their teenage offspring in 720 families from the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development (NEAD) project, with more than half of those households included a child-rearing stepparent.
Mothers, dads, and children each completed questions on depressive symptoms, behaviours, and parent-child conflict. In a series of models, the researchers next looked at the relationship between paternal depressive symptoms and child behavioural symptoms.
Regardless of whether the dads and their children were genetically linked, Neiderhiser and Alex Burt, professor of clinical science at Michigan State, and their colleagues discovered paternal sadness was connected with adolescent depression and teenage behaviour issues.
“The findings pointed firmly to the environmental transmission of sadness and behaviours between dads and children,” Burt, who has worked on projects with Neiderhiser since the early 2000s, said. “Furthermore, we saw these relationships among a sample of ‘blended’ couples in which the father was biologically related to one participating kid but not to the other, providing critical validation of our findings. We also discovered that much of this effect appears to be caused by parent-child conflict. These findings add to the body of data showing parent-child conflict is an environmental predictor of teenage behaviour.”
While the results were predicted, Neiderhiser believed the impacts on children’s conduct and sadness would be larger among genetically linked parent-child couples.
“It would be fantastic to undertake more research on step and blended families,” she says. “They are an underutilised natural experiment from which we may learn more to assist us separate the effects of environmental and genetic variables on families.”
The study was published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
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