University of South Florida


How parenting impacts the incidence of depression among Black youth

Black American youth have disproportionately higher rates of depression when compared to youth of other races. 

The reasons, says Dr. Xonjenese Jacobs, a USF College of Public Health alum and current director of Florida Covering Kids & Families, are multifaceted and can include things like having an unchecked family history of a major depressive disorder, experiencing school violence and living in a low socioeconomic household. 

But some of the biggest risk factors for depression among Black youth, Jacobs says, are parenting behaviors and styles.

Jacobs outlines her findings in “Parenting and Depression in Black American Youth: A Review of the Impact,” published in December in the Negro Educational Review.

Black teen looking out window looking sad

                                                                                                Photo source: Canva 

For example, Jacobs found that Black children exposed to parent-parent conflict had higher rates of depression than children who didn’t experience such conflict. What’s more, parent-on-parent conflict seemed to raise the risk of depression among Black youth more than parent-on-child conflict.

“Children receive their world view in the home, as parents are their first teachers,” Jacobs explained. “As such, the messages they hear and receive from their parents influence their behaviors and ideas about who is a safe person for them and how they should engage with these persons. For a child to see conflict among their parents, it can stir feelings of confusion within and cause them to think that they must choose sides. This conflict is often too much for them to comprehend and manage, leading to feelings of depression.”

Jacobs also found that having a strong father-figure available—even if that person didn’t live in the home—can protect Black youth from depression, particularly when there’s parent-mother conflict. 

“Most reported parent-child conflict comes from mothers,” Jacobs stated. “This conflict often drives feelings of depressive symptomology in the household. Fathers and other paternal figures act as a mitigator for conflict within the home, providing balanced behavioral control for children in their care.”

Another protective factor, says Jacobs, is having an authoritative, rather than a permissive or authoritarian, style of parenting. 

“Parenting in Black families has historically been viewed as authoritarian and otherwise associated with being ‘no-nonsense’ or autocratic. Authoritarian parenting lends itself to the adage, ‘Do as I say’ without room for dissent or questioning. Authoritative parenting, on the other hand, is a balance between guidance and regard, reflecting control and warmth. Children reared by permissive parenting,” she added, “have difficulty discerning whether their parent cares because of the laissez-faire nature in which they are being raised. Children need boundaries coupled with freedom, within reason, and to know that their parents will always be there to support them emotionally. Authoritative parenting is the parenting style that does just that.”

Black female teen sitting on park bench looking sad

                                                                                             Photo source: Canva

While Jacobs acknowledges that parenting styles can put youth of other races at an increased risk of depression, Black American youth are particularly vulnerable. 

“Black youth have a unique experience rooted in history that serves as a moderator for higher depressive symptomology,” Jacobs said. “Lack of access to resources, health disparities, microaggressions and other experiences that marginalize the Black community will remain factors that put Black youth at increased risk for depression until systematic change occurs.”

To reduce risk, Jacobs says both the Black community and health care providers need to work together. She recommends educating health care providers about the lived experiences of Black Americans, using race as a moderator in depression-screening tools and reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health issues within the Black community.

“We need to initiate a shift in ideology to regard mental health as physical health,” she said. “Using trusted community members, leaders and entities in the Black community can advance this effort.”

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