Dee’s Days: Are Caribbean teenage girls more depressed than their brothers?

 

Let’s face it. There are plenty of Saint Lucian parents who are reading the title of this article and thinking: Why is this woman banging on about depressed teenagers yet again? All teenagers are miserable and troublesome by nature, so what’s the big deal?

“Miserable and troublesome” are probably the two most frequently used adjectives to describe kids on this island, as any bus journey or visit to the centre of Castries will reveal. Tiny toddlers dragged by the hand and yelled at for asking questions; pint-sized preschoolers slapped in public for the slightest infraction; or my latest beef – mothers who are fully wired for sound, plugs in ears and smartphone in hand, while their primary-schooler is ignored; no chatter, no interest, “no nuffin’” as they say.

Little Lucian babies, cute as a button and perfect in every way, are classified as “troublesome” as soon as they exit the womb and open their tiny maws to scream for food, which of course is their sole method of communication in the first year of life. I’ve heard Lucian mothers (and sometimes their paid care-givers) describe infant sons and daughters as if they were possessed by some itty-bitty bollum, just for doing the things babies do naturally.

And as those “miserable” kids grow up, what do you think is the result?

If you as a parent give your kid a bad name, guess what? They will believe you, and begin to live up to their reputation. When teens are comprehensively perceived as trouble by their parents, isn’t it a logical result to find that the parenting styles they report are either Authoritarian – with parents meting out a disciplinarian, autocratic and punitive form of child-rearing in the vain hope that by overpowering and ruling their teenager they can expect to change behaviours – or in increasing numbers, Neglectful.

It doesn’t take a psychology degree to understand just what is meant by neglectful parenting, but let me be clear on the terms describing the parental style reported by 28.4%, or more than a quarter of the 1955 12 to 19 year olds surveyed in the 2012 CAPMH report..

“Distant, uncaring, negligent, disinterested, passive and absent” are just a few of the sad and troubling traits used to define Neglectful parenting: and let’s not act like we don’t have at least that percentage in Saint Lucia, because I’ll hazard a guess that a local survey would show higher instances of neglectful parenting.

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking results though, is the difference in how parents handle girls and boys: the study showed that “parenting styles also significantly differed by gender. Female participants reported the highest percentage of parents who utilized Authoritative parenting (36.2%) while male participants mainly reported Neglectful parenting (32.5%).”

So what does this say about attitudes in the Caribbean? Can it be that parents treat their daughters differently from their sons, offering a higher level of trust and autonomy to their female offspring?

If Authoritative parenting is the “most reasonable” style, using guidelines and flexibility, providing a supportive and enabling structure and encouraging self-regulation from their teenagers, why is it that girls are getting the parenting they deserve, while almost a third of boys are left to raise themselves?

And if male teenagers in the Caribbean are experiencing high levels of depression due to extremes of parenting styles – “why-is-me-eh” Neglectful and “my-way-or-the-highway” Authoritarian – what implication do the statistics have on crime? After all, some of the depressive symptoms described by the experts include hopelessness, anger, hostility, restlessness and agitation.

Add to the mix a lack of engagement due to an archaic school system, high unemployment in general but especially among young people, the prevalence of physical, verbal and sexual abuse of childrens in Saint Lucia, the temptations of gang life and the “easy” gains of crime – are you following my logic?

Joining the dots is easy– there is a link between “bad” parenting and depression in kids; depressed teenagers feel desperate and often act out; youth crime is through the roof in many of our islands– albeit not confined to the male gender. You can probably see where I’m going with this train of thought.

But tackling the problem will be more difficult than identifying it, especially in a society that is predicated on the theory that “children should be seen and not heard” and that babies are born “miserable and troublesome.”

In next Saturday’s issue of The STAR, adolescent mental health strategies in the UK and other countries: what are the resources on the ground in Saint Lucia and what can a parent do if their child appears depressed?

 

 

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