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Peer and Family Relationships Impact Development of Depression

The transition to the teenage years is marked with a significant change in the influences over a young person’s life. An individual may have had only their parents as major forces contributing to their thoughts and decisions as they completed elementary school. When it is time to go on to middle and high school, teens may count several peers, in addition to their parents, who contribute to shaping who they are.

This influential role can impact several aspects of life. Studies have shown, for instance, that both parents and peers impact a teen’s decisions about alcohol and other substances. Recently, a study was conducted that provided evidence that peer relationships and parental relationships interact to influence whether a teenager develops depression.

The development of depression is caused by a complex combination of factors, both biological and environmental. Certain characteristics, such as levels of dependency, can influence whether depression appears in a teen.

Dependency can be broken down into two components: neediness and connectedness. When teens begin to rely on peers more for relational support, their levels of neediness and connectedness begin to be impacted by both family and friends.

Many studies have examined the influence of parents on depression, and the influence of peers, but there has been little research to examine the interaction of these two realms in the risk of developing depression.

Led by Daniel C. Sibley-Kopala of the Department of Psychology at McGill University in Canada, the study involved 200 young adults and tasked them with recalling peer and parent relationships experienced during adolescence.

The participants were evaluated to determine their levels of connectness and neediness in order to assess criteria for the risk of developing depression. The analysis showed that when an individual provided information that pointed to a weak mother-child relationship, it resulted in peer relationships that had a major influence over connectedness, whether positive or negative.

In the case of some young adults, the presence of a positive peer relationship resulted in an increased level of connectedness that was lacking in the parent-child relationship. In other cases, negative peer relationships weakened connectedness, which resulted in an increased risk for developing depression.

The same was true for participants in relation to neediness. Those who felt neglected by parents sought to fill the gap with peer relationships. When their needs were not met, they experienced an increased level of neediness.

In addition, when the participants had supportive relationships with peers, controlling parents often limited the peer relationship and increased the child’s level of neediness.

The study’s findings demonstrate that peer attachments are important to understand for the prevention of depression and parents can significantly contribute to the development of the peer relationship’s influence.

The findings appear in a recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science.

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