The Course of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms from Early to Middle Adolescence: the Roles of Parent-youth Relationships and Youth Gender

Open Access
Johnson, Lesley Elizabeth
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 15, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Mark T Greenberg, Dissertation Advisor
  • John Walter Graham, Committee Member
  • Ginger A Moore, Committee Member
  • Doug Coatsworth, Committee Member
  • Edward A Smith, Committee Member
  • adolescence
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • parent-youth relationships
  • warmth/support
  • conflict/anger
  • general child management (GCM)
Rates of depression begin to rise markedly in early adolescence and are often accompanied by anxiety. Additionally, a gender difference in depression emerges at this time, with about twice as many females experiencing depression as males. To better understand these phenomena the aims of the current study were three-fold: 1) to examine the developmental patterns of symptoms of depression and anxiety from early to middle adolescence in a community sample, 2) to examine the role of gender as a predictor of the level and growth of depression and anxiety symptoms, and 3) to examine parenting and parent’s own depression and anxiety as predictors of the level and growth of youth depressive and anxiety symptoms. Parenting factors included Warmth/Support, Anger/Conflict, and General Child Management Additionally, associations between change in parenting and change in symptoms were examined. The sample consisted of 808 7th graders from 28 rural communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania that were part of the PROSPER Project. Families participated in yearly home visits with youth, mothers (n=787), and fathers (n=556) reporting on their own symptoms as well as the quality of parenting. Growth curve analyses indicated an increase in depressive symptoms over time for females and a small decrease for males; anxiety symptoms increased notably for girls and slightly for boys over the three-year period. Overall, the findings indicate several general patterns: a) there were more significant findings for maternal parenting than paternal parenting, suggesting that relationships with mothers may be more salient than relationships with fathers to youth internalizing symptoms; b) when found, gender differences suggested greater salience of parenting to internalizing symptoms for girls than for boys and c) of the three parenting constructs, Anger/Conflict emerged as the most relevant, followed by General Child Management and Warmth/Support. The direction of all associations was consistent with hypotheses (e.g. increases in Anger/Conflict were associated with increases in youth depressive symptoms); however, there was no association between parent and youth symptoms. Reasons that parent-youth relationships may be more relevant to the development of symptoms for girls compared to boys are discussed (i.e. greater salience of interpersonal relationships to females), as well as future research directions. Potential implications include bolstering interpersonally-oriented preventive interventions with instruction and practice in conflict resolution and GCM techniques for youth and parents, and activities promoting warmth and support for adolescent girls and their mothers.