Mental Podcast Show

A new study published in the Journal of Child Development looked at perceived parental social support and psychological control and how it can predict depressive symptoms for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning youth in the United States.

“The purpose of our study was to test how parent support and parent control relate to symptoms of depression for LGBTQ youth,” study author Amy McCurdy of the University of Texas at Austin told us. “We were hoping to establish that general parenting practices matter for LGBTQ youth, which seems obvious, but in fact little research has done this.”

Researchers had a few ideas about what they might find based on prior research. They thought that parent social support would be linked with fewer depression symptoms and parent control would be linked with greater symptoms. They weren’t sure whether youth outness to parents would impact these links, for example, whether the link between general parenting and youth depression is stronger for youth who are out to parents versus not out to parents.

“What we think is exciting about this study is that it bridges the gap between parenting research and research on LGBTQ youth populations,” McCurdy told us. “We noticed that much of the parenting research does not explicitly consider youth sexual identity, whereas much of the research on LGBTQ youth focuses mainly on parenting practices specific to youth’s LGBTQ identities (such as family acceptance or rejection).”

The research team thought it was important to address these challenges. Another motivation of the study was to understand how parenting is linked with LGBTQ youth well-being for youth who are not out to their parents, which is an under-researched topic.

The research team tested their theory using a sample of 536 LGBTQ adolescents (ages 15 – 21). Youth reported on their own depression symptoms, and on their parents’ social support, psychological control, and whether their parent(s) knew their LGBTQ identity. They then tested the links between these variables statistically to see the strength and direction of the associations. They also compared differences for youth who were out versus not out to their parent(s).

“We found that parent social support resulted in fewer instances of depression
symptoms for LGBTQ youth, while youth who experienced psychological control had more
depression symptoms,” McCurdy told us. “LGBTQ youth who were not out to their parent(s) had a slightly more nuanced pattern. For these youth, having parents who were both highly supportive and highly controlling was linked with more depression symptoms.”

There were two primary results that surprised the authors. First, that parent support and parent control were both influential in predicting youth depressive symptoms, and second, that the combined influence of parent support and control mattered most for LGBTQ youth who were not currently out to their parent(s).

“The first finding is surprising because it differs from the results of a previous study, which found that parent control is greater than the importance of parent support,” McCurdy told us. “Our study shows that both are influential at the same time.”

The second finding is new. Given that there is not much research out there about LGBTQ youth who are not out to their parent(s) (because parents have to consent for youth to participate in research), this finding indicates the crucial importance of parenting for these youth.

“These data provide evidence about the important benefits of general parent support and harms of psychological control for LGBTQ youth,” McCurdy told us. “Focusing on improving these general parenting practices may benefit LGBTQ youth’s mental health.”

An important takeaway from this research is that parents can actually exhibit both parenting practices – and for LGBTQ youth who are not out to their parent(s), having highly controlling parents appears to undermine the support that parents do offer.

“It’s important to consider the effects of multiple parenting practices, because youth experience parenting as a whole, and are affected not by just one component, but all components together.” McCurdy told us.

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