How are teen depression and parental monitoring related to each other?

In brief

Parental monitoring has been widely seen as a parenting practice that helps reduce depressive symptoms in teens. But recently, it was discovered that researchers assessed parental knowledge, rather than parental monitoring, when assessing the role of parenting in depression in children and teens.

Parental monitoring is not the same thing as parental knowledge. Parents can gain knowledge about their teen’s activities in three ways: through what their child tells them voluntarily, through what the parent asks, or by setting boundaries on the teen’s activities. While only the last two methods are part of parental monitoring, all three can help parents know where their teens’ are and what they’re doing.

To better understand the role of parental monitoring on teens’ susceptibility to depressive symptoms, researchers from Ontario surveyed 2,941 students in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12. They asked the teens about their depressive symptoms and to describe how much their parents know about their activities, how much they tell their parents about their activities, how much their parents ask them about their activities, and how restricting their parents are.

EENet is pleased to feature a Research Snapshot on the article, “Perceived Parental Monitoring, Adolescent Disclosure, and Adolescent Depressive Symptoms: A Longitudinal Examination,” by Chloe A. Hamza and Teena Willoughby. The article appeared in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 40, no. 7 (2010).

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What you need to know

The more parents know about their teen’s activities, the more they are able to help ward off teen depressive symptoms. Solicitation can increase teen disclosure, which along with parental control, can increase parental knowledge and lower depressive symptoms over time. However, a teen’s depressive symptoms’ can equally impact parents’ monitoring and knowledge.

What is this research about?

In the past, parental monitoring has been widely regarded as an important parenting practice for reducing adolescent depressive symptoms. Recently, however, it has been discovered that researchers assessed parental knowledge, rather than parental monitoring, when assessing the role of parenting in depression. But parental monitoring is not the same thing as parental knowledge.

A parent can gain knowledge about their teen’s activities in 3 ways: teen disclosure (the child tells the parent voluntarily), parental solicitation (the parent asks), or parental control (parents set boundaries on the teen’s activities). Only the last two methods are part of parental monitoring, but all three may provide parents with knowledge about their teens’ activities and whereabouts. Past studies haven’t disentangled these three sources of parental knowledge, however, so it is unclear whether parental monitoring actually reduces adolescents’ susceptibility to depressive symptoms.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers from Ontario surveyed 2,941 Ontario high school students. The students filled out a questionnaire in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 from 2003-2008. The students were

asked about their perceptions of:

  • Parental knowledge: how much their parents know about their activities;
  • Teen disclosure: how much they tell their parents about their activities;
  • Parental solicitation: how much their parents ask them about their activities;
  • Parental control: how restricting their parents are; and about their depressive symptoms.

What did the researchers find?

Higher parental knowledge about their adolescents’ activities and whereabouts predicted fewer adolescent depressive symptoms over time. Parents also had more knowledge of teens’ activities and whereabouts if they used parental limit-setting and control, and if adolescents voluntary disclosed their activities to them.

Higher parental solicitation increased a teen’s willingness to disclose to their parents, which also increased parental knowledge and reduced depressive symptoms. However, higher levels of depressive symptoms reversed this: it led to lowered parental solicitation and lower teen disclosure, meaning less parental knowledge and potentially increased depressive symptoms. Interestingly, these higher levels of depressive symptoms reduced parental solicitation, but not parental control.

How can you use this research?

This study may interest parents since it provides insight into what parents can do to ward off their teen’s depressive symptoms. It also highlights the effects that teen depressive symptoms, in turn, may have on parental behaviour and knowledge. Administrators who create intervention programs aimed at parents might also be interested in these findings.

Limitations and next steps

This study is based on students’ self-reports so they reflect teens’ perceptions but not necessarily actual parental monitoring and knowledge. The study may also not be generalizable to other areas of different ethnicities or demographics. Future research may consider: examining other sources of monitoring; surveying teens of different cultures; using measures specific to teens’ feelings and mood; or asking whether teens perceive parental solicitation and control as intrusive.

About the researchers

Chloe A. Hamza is a Ph.D. student in Developmental Psychology at Brock University in St. Catharine’s, ON. Teena Willoughby is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Brock. This Research Snapshot is based on their article “Perceived Parental Monitoring, Adolescent Disclosure, and Adolescent Depressive Symptoms: A Longitudinal Examination,” which was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 40, no. 7 (2010): 902-15.


Adolescent depressive symptoms, longitudinal study, bidirectional effects, perceived parental monitoring behaviors, adolescent disclosure

This Research Snapshot is based on an article that has been critically appraised for quality and susceptibility to bias.

EENet has partnered with the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University to produce Research Snapshots in the field of mental health and addictions in Ontario. This summary was written by Maia Miller.