A University of Missouri researcher has found that parents who are experiencing financial problems — and the depression that often results from those problems — are less likely to feel connected to their children, and their children are less likely to engage in positive behaviors, such as volunteering or helping others.
“The study serves as a reminder that children’s behaviors are affected by issues beyond their immediate surroundings,” said Gustavo Carlo, Millsap Professor of Diversity in the university’s department of human development and family studies.
“Families’ economic situations are affected by broader factors in our society, and those financial problems can lead to depression that hurts parent-child relationships.”
Previous research has shown that parent-child connectedness is an indicator of “pro-social behavior” in children, such as volunteering. These positive behaviors lead to moral development, better outcomes in relationships, and better performance at work and school, researchers say.
For the latest study, Carlo and his colleagues studied middle- to upper middle-class families. Parents and children answered questions about economic stress, depression and connectedness between parents and children.
A year later, the children reported how often they engaged in prosocial behaviors toward strangers, family members and friends.
“Even middle-class families are having financial difficulties, and it’s affecting their ability to be effective parents,” Carlo said. “When parents are depressed, it affects their relationships with their kids.”
Carlo suggests that depressed parents seek treatment from a mental health professional, if possible. If that isn’t possible, parents should look for help from their spouses, families, friends, churches and other community agencies, he said. He recommends parents balance efforts to help themselves with spending quality time with their children.
“Raising kids is tough as it is,” Carlo said. “When you have the added layers of financial difficulty and depression, it makes raising children even more challenging.”
The study, “A Test of the Economic Strain Model on Adolescents’ Prosocial Behaviors,” was published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Carlo collaborated with researchers Laura Padilla-Walker and Randal Day at Brigham Young University. The department of human development and family studies is part of the College of Human Environmental Sciences.
Source: University of Missouri