How A Stricter Parenting Style Can Lead To Depression In Kids

Being a parent is tough, and there is always opposing advice for how to raise your kids, often leading to controversial parenting styles. Yet, since many of us may have not grown up in the manner that was best for our emotional and mental well-being, many adults today are trying to do things differently and become better parents than we had ourselves.

Parenting styles tend to run the gamut, from extreme compliance and obedience to barely any at all. Parents who are too lenient and employ permissive parenting, also known as indulgent parenting, tend to have children who are more likely to be unable to follow rules (via Verywell Mind). They may be more aggressive, underachieving, and make poor decisions as well as become more likely to become addicted to substances.

However, a new study says that very strict parents can also greatly — and negatively — impact their child's mental health (via WebMD).

Study says depression is caused by stricter parenting

A study appearing in EurekAlert!/American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) finds that children who grow up with very strict parents tend to have poor mental health, namely in the form of depression.

In the study, researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium compared 44 young people aged 12 to 16. Of the participants, 21 reported having supportive and caring parents while 23 adolescents said they had parents who were excessively strict and engaged in manipulation and physical punishment as a means of parenting.

The findings displayed that adolescents who grew up with harsh parenting exhibited increased methylation, a normal body process occurring when a tiny molecule is added to DNA, basically showing that extremely strict parenting changes a child's DNA structure (via Sky News). Methylation is associated with increased depression and in the study, those who experienced harsh parenting showed subclinical signs of depression.

Childhood stress has significant setbacks

Dr. Evelien Van Assche — who presented the findings at the ECNP Congress in Vienna — said of the study, "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 hard-wired into DNA," (via AAAS).

Children who grow up with caring and involved parents tend to have normal levels of methylation (via mid-day). "We have some indications that these changes themselves can predispose the growing child to depression. This does not happen to the same extent if the children have had a supportive upbringing," Dr. Van Assche explained.

Though this study focused on harsh parenting being one cause of teen depression, there is reason to believe that other forms of major stress in a child's life may produce the same response. According to Dr. Van Assche, "It's likely that any significant stress will lead to such changes in DNA methylation; so, in general, stresses in childhood may lead to a general tendency to depression in later life by altering the way your DNA is read."