Teens With Depressed Parents Are More Likely to Show Risky Behaviors: Study

Teenage is the most vulnerable period of one’s life and parenting a teenager is a big task. For most teens, life is all about getting the adrenaline rush and a euphoric high by doing things that might be risky, but would give “fun” and “excitement.” As teenagers begin to identify themselves as independent beings, they start experimenting with new things that produce a sense of thrill, such as walking on a plank above a pool of water, driving a car very fast, bungee jumping, climbing a hill or jumping from a two-storied building. But when they start going beyond the norms of teenage rebellion, it becomes a cause of concern. Parents of troubled teens have to face even greater problems which, in the long run, can manifest as depression and anxiety.

A collaborative study by the University of California and the University of Illinois revealed that parental depression can aggravate risk-taking behaviors in teens. While previous researches found certain association between parental depression and a teen’s risk-taking behavior, the latest study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience in May 2016, is the first to find corresponding restructures in the teens’ brains that incite them to break more rules and indulge in risk-taking activities.

Lead author of the study Yang Qu, a student of the University of Illinois, said, “This is the first empirical evidence to show that parental depression influences children’s behavior through the change in the adolescents’ brain.”

Parental depression aggravates risk-taking behaviors in teens

Study co-author Eva Telzer, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, said that the teenage years get to see a lot of changes, which give rise to risk-taking and rule-breaking behaviors in them.

For the study, the researchers examined a group of 23 adolescents aged between 15 and 17 years. The participants were investigated over a period of 18 months using a longitudinal functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) design to monitor the changes in the brain’s blood oxygen levels. The teens were asked to complete a computer-based test twice: once at the beginning of the study and the other at the end of the study.

The teens were asked to click a button to inflate a computerized balloon without popping it. The participants were monetarily awarded in proportion to the number of balloons inflated. But a popped out balloon did not fetch any reward. Telzer said, “The more risky they are in real life, the more risky they are on the task as well.”

The computer test helped the researchers understand their risk-taking behavior, apart from gaining insight into their history of substance abuse, the frequency of partying and sneaking out without parental permission, and the typical rule-breaking behaviors.

To understand the prevalence of parental depression, the researchers surveyed the parents for their depressive symptoms and asked them how often they felt: “I couldn’t shake off the blues” and “Everything I did was an effort.” These parents, however, were not under any treatment for clinical depression.

Children usually pick up negative emotions their parents experience

The results revealed that the parents who reported having greater symptoms of depression had children who were more inclined to taking risks. The study demonstrated that children usually pick up negative emotions that their parents are experiencing, though unconsciously. Such depressive emotions of parents can significantly impact the way the teenager’s brain reacts to impulses pertaining to any risky situations.

At the neural level, teenagers having parents with increased depression show significant activations in the ventral striatum — the brain region involved in risk-taking behavior. The activations in the ventral striatum are responsible for mediating links between parental depression and teenage risk-taking behaviors. However, the researchers believed that further studies need to be conducted to establish the cause of the link and how it affected the future of a teen.

Path to recovery

Studies have shown that parental depression is detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of a child. The problem becomes more serious when parents with a mental health condition have to deal with their teens’ risk-taking and rule-breaking behaviors. Hence, it is important for parents to seek treatment for depression as soon as possible.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental disorder, please seek immediate medical aid from a reliable mental health treatment center in Colorado. The Colorado Mental Health Helpline can connect you to the best mental health treatment in Colorado that has customized programs suiting your needs. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866–899–5063 for assistance.

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