Parents are perhaps the most influential persons that one will ever encounter in life. Their impact is both profound and enduring. In fact, parenting styles are largely influenced by parents’ experiences, both positive and negative, with their own parents as they themselves grew up.”
So says the Caribbean and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (CAPMH.com) study published in September 2012. And which one of us could argue with the fact that our parents’ contribution to the person we become is extensive and fundamental, whether the inheritance is a positive or negative one? I have my dad’s skinny legs and work ethic, plus my mum’s cheekbones and sense of humour – I won’t reveal which one passed on my talent for cursing like a trooper or my distaste for physical exercise! We may look like our parents or not, think like them or not, act like them or not, but we are all – to some extent or another – a product of our parents and their parenting.
Which is why the contents of the report called “Parenting and depressive symptoms among adolescents in four Caribbean societies” should have a bone-chilling effect on any mother or father.
Remember, researchers from UWI studied depression levels in almost 2000 teenagers from Jamaica, Bahamas, St Kitts & Nevis and St Vincent, aged between 12 and 19 years old with an average age of 15.3 years. They claimed that 52.1% of the teenagers suffered from some form of depression, with 29.1% suffering from ‘moderate to severe’ symptoms.
In the four countries surveyed, the researchers were supported and assisted by the local Ministry of Education. The kids were selected through a process of random sampling in Jamaica and Bahamas, with a cross section of grade 10s from rural and urban, traditional and non-traditional schools participating. In St Vincent, more than 700 teenagers were sampled in selected schools across the island. In St Kitts there was so much interest that the study became an almost complete census of the 744 grade 10 students in the St Kitts and Nevis school system.
The staggering figures were reached via two methods: a questionnaire called the Beck Depression Inventory II, which “examines the cognitive, behavioural, affective and somatic symptoms of depression” by giving the student a series of statements numbered 0 to 3, and asking them to circle the statement that best reflected their feelings in the previous two weeks. Each child’s scores were compiled into the data forming one part of the study.
The second element of the research measured “parenting practices” by having the teenagers describe the strategies used by their parents to interact and care for them during the previous six months: using several scientific tools and methods, they examined levels of parental nurturing, monitoring and discipline, and the resulting statistics were collated into something called a Parental Practices Scale.
In a nutshell, the researchers from UWI’s Mona Campus identified four basic parenting styles: Authoritarian parents scored high on monitoring their kids but low on nurturing them, while Authoritative parents scored high on both monitoring and nurturing. Parents who scored high on nurturing but low on monitoring were classified as Permissive, and those who fell below the average score for monitoring and nurturing were classified as Neglectful.
The researchers had three hypotheses based on previous studies and reports, so they set out to prove that: i) there would be high levels of depression in the group of teenagers, even higher in girls than boys; ii) the majority of parents used the Authoritarian style, that’s to say overly monitoring their teens while providing them with little nurturing; and iii) there would be lower levels of depression in the kids of Authoritative parents, meaning that kids who were well-monitored and well-nurtured would show fewer symptoms of depression.
What they found was a diverse range of results depending on the country, and evidence debunking at least one of their hypotheses.
For sure they proved the first theory, finding that more than 50% of the teens showed some level of depressive symptoms. In Jamaica that number was 71.9%, with 40.1% reporting moderate to severe depression. However in our tiny neighbour St Vincent, out of a whopping 72.6% of the kids registering as depressed, a much lower 30% were in the moderate to severe category. In Bahamas the worst cases represented 22.6% of the 63.3% kids showing symptoms.
And in St Kitts and Nevis, where a whole grade ten was surveyed, the researchers found the lowest number of depressed teenagers, a “mere” 62.3%, out of which 24.7% – or 184 children between the ages of 13 and 19 – were showing moderate to severe symptoms.
So what are these symptoms of teenage depression? Helpguide.org gives a good understanding of what to look out for:
• Sadness or hopelessness
• Irritability, anger or hostility
• Tearfulness or frequent crying
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Loss of interest in activities
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Restlessness and agitation
• Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
• Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
• Fatigue or lack of energy
• Difficulty concentrating
• Thoughts of death or suicide
The website also gives the following cautionary advice: “Occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected, but depression is something different. Depression can destroy the very essence of a teenager’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger.”
But back to the CAPMH results, and surprisingly, the historical tendency in the Caribbean to provide Authoritarian parenting was found to be changing, and the teenagers reported that their parents often used a mixture of styles. The highest number of parents were classified as Authoritative (32.6%), while only 18.7% of the kids described their parents’ style as Permissive.
Which is good, right? That means more Caribbean parents are monitoring, i.e. taking a higher level of interest in their kids, while giving them plenty of nurturing – let’s call that love, care and support. So what’s the problem?
Well, that’s where the link between the depression statistics and style of parenting made a bit more sense to me.
You see, the problem comes when you add the percentages of the other two parenting styles – the overbearing, autocratic, punishing Authoritarians, and the distant, uninvolved, couldn’t-give-a-crap Neglectfuls – who represent a shameful 48.7% of parenting styles in the survey.
Effectively, a fifth of the kids in those four countries had traditional Caribbean well-meaning dictators as parents, while more than a quarter were simply being neglected. And suddenly that depressed teenagers figure of 52.1%, started to sound plausible.
At no point in the study does it mention the harmful impact of rape, sexual molestation and incest on depression, nor domestic violence, nor teenage pregnancy. So if almost three quarters of Vincentian teenagers are suffering from mild to severe depression, would anyone like to hazard a guess as to our Saint Lucian statistics?
In Wednesday’s STAR, what the report says about the gender gap – are Caribbean girls parented differently than their brothers? What role does crime play in causing depression in teenagers and what can we learn from the study in Saint Lucia?