Parenting matters more for some children than for others. Research shows that some children are just predisposed to be greatly influenced by the parenting they receive (for better or worse), while other children will do relatively well regardless of the parenting that they receive. And whether a particular child is highly sensitive to parenting or not seems to be based on genetics.
Research by Zhang and colleagues published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence measured symptoms of depression in a group of adolescents aged 11-17 and the parenting practices of their mothers (as reported by the adolescents). They found that when adolescents possessed a certain genetic polymorphism (BDNF Val66Met), their depressive symptoms were greatly affected by the type of parenting they received.
When mothers used high levels of positive parenting, BDNF Val66Met adolescents had fewer depressive symptoms than other adolescents (those without the polymorphism). But when mothers used low levels of positive parenting, BDNF Val66Met adolescents had more depressive symptoms than other adolescents. In other words, depression in adolescents with a particular genetic predisposition is highly dependent on the type of parenting they receive.
So what is this “positive parenting” style that was associated with lower depressive symptoms in adolescents? Positive parenting includes the use of reasoning and warmth.
- Reasoning involves providing adolescents with explanations and communication, particularly around rules and discipline. It is important to talk about the reasons why rules exist, and the purposes of disciplinary actions and consequences.
- Warmth involves the expression of affection, love, and support towards the adolescent.
How Do I Know of My Child is at Risk of Depression?
To know whether your child is a BDNF Val66Met carrier would require genetic testing. And to be honest, I don’t think it should matter whether your child is a carrier or not. Positive parenting practices are known to be beneficial for many reasons for all children and adolescents and should be used regardless. In the study by Zhang, positive parenting had the effect of lowering depressive symptoms for all adolescents, it was just a larger effect for adolescents genetically at risk. In other words, all adolescents will benefit from parents who discipline with reasoning, provide explanations for rules, and show affection, love and support.