Hard times are disrupting families

11 Dec

A team of researchers has just published a study, “A Test of the Economic Strain Model on Adolescents’ Prosocial  Behaviors,” which describes how families are being disrupted in the current economic climate. Janice Wood associate news editor at Psych Central writes about the study in the article, Recession Taking a Toll on Family Relationships.

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.


Even very young children can become depressed.

Pamela Paul has a fascinating article in the New York Times about preschoolers and depression. In the article, Can Preschoolers Be Depressed? Paul reports:    

Kiran didn’t seemlike the type of kid parents should worry about. “He was the easy one,” his father, Raghu, a physician, says. “He always wanted to please.” Unlike other children in his suburban St. Louis preschool, Kiran (a nickname his parents asked me to use to protect his identity) rarely disobeyed or acted out. If he dawdled or didn’t listen, Raghu (also a nickname) had only to count to five before Kiran hastened to tie his shoes or put the toys away. He was kind to other children; if a classmate cried, Kiran immediately approached. “Our little empath!” his parents proudly called him.

But there were worrisome signs. For one thing, unlike your typical joyful and carefree 4-year-old, Kiran didn’t have a lot of fun. “He wasn’t running around, bouncing about, battling to get to the top of the slide like other kids,” Raghu notes. Kiran’s mother, Elizabeth (her middle name), an engineer, recalls constant refrains of “Nothing is fun; I’m bored.” When Raghu and Elizabeth reminded a downbeat Kiran of their coming trip to Disney World, Kiran responded: “Mickey lies. Dreams don’t come true.”

Paul does a great job of describing what depression looks like in small children and reporting about research efforts by various universities.    

According to Mary H. Sarafolean, PhD in the article, Depression In School Age Children and Adolescents

In general, depression affects a person’s physical,  cognitive, emotional/affective, and motivational well-being, no matter  their age. For example, a child with depression between the ages of 6 and 12 may exhibit fatigue, difficulty with schoolwork, apathy and/or a lack of motivation. An adolescent or teen may be oversleeping, socially isolated, acting out in
self-destructive ways and/or have a sense of hopelessness. (See table 1.)    

Prevalence and Risk Factors             

While only 2 percent of pre-teen school-age children and 3-5 percent of teenagers have clinical depression, it is the most common diagnosis of children in a clinical setting (40-50 percent of diagnoses). The lifetime risk  of depression in females is 10-25 percent and in males, 5-12 percent. Children and teens who are considered at high risk for depression disorders include:

* children referred to a mental health provider for school problems
* children with medical problems
* gay and lesbian adolescents
* rural vs. urban adolescents
* incarcerated adolescents
* pregnant adolescents
* children with a family history of depression  

If you or your child has one or more of the risk factors and your child is exhibiting symptoms of prolonged sadness, it might be wise to have your child evaluated for depression. MedNet has an excellent article about Depression In Children and how to recognize signs of depression in your child.

If you or your child needs help for depression or another illness, then go to a reputable medical provider. There is nothing wrong with taking the steps necessary to get well.


  1. About.Com’s  Depression In Young Children
  2. Psych Central’s  Depression In Young Children
  3. Psychiatric News’  Study Helps Pinpoint Children With Depression
  4. Family Doctor’s  What Is Depression?
  5. WebMD’s  Depression In Children
  6. Healthline’s  Is Your Child Depressed?
  7. Medicine.Net’s  Depression In Children


 “A Test of the Economic Strain Model on Adolescents’ Prosocial Behaviors,” Source: Journal of Research on Adolescence, Volume 21, Number 4, 1 December 2011 , pp. 842-848(7)

Gustavo Carlo of the University of Missouri, Laura Padilla-Walker and Randal Day of Brigham Young University. 

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

13 Responses to “Hard times are disrupting families”


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