Dysfunctional Parenting and Family Adversities in Association with Depressive Symptoms in Female Adolescents: The Roles of Personality Traits

Research Article

Austin J Public Health Epidemiol. 2016; 3(2): 1037.

Dysfunctional Parenting and Family Adversities in Association with Depressive Symptoms in Female Adolescents: The Roles of Personality Traits

Yang HJ*

Department of Public Health, Chung Shan Medical University and Department of Family and Community Medicine, Chung Shan Medical University Hospital, Taiwan

*Corresponding author: Yang HJ, Department of Public Health, College of Health Care and Management, Chung Shan Medical University, Taichung City 40201, Taiwan

Received: March 02, 2016; Accepted: March 18, 2016; Published: March 21, 2016


Purpose: To examine whether personality traits specifically act with dysfunctional parenting or other family adversities on the development of depressive symptoms among female adolescents.

Methods: A total of 1207 female adolescents aged 15 to 18 from two comprehensive high schools in Taichung County, Taiwan were recruited for this study. A series of multivariable regression analyses were conducted to examine the mediational effect of personality traits between family factors and depressive symptoms.

Main Findings: After controlling for grade and academic performance, dysfunctional parenting, family dysfunctioning, poor family economic status, and all personality traits were significantly associated with depressive symptoms, but each accounted for only a small variation (< 8%) except for neuroticism (47%). Neuroticism acted as a mediator between family adversities and female depressive symptoms since effects of family adversities were substantially attenuated, although remained significant, when taking it into account in the multivariable models. However, those effects stayed similar when psychoticism and extroversion were individually put into the models, indicating both personality traits provided another pathway for family adversities to depressive symptoms in addition to their direct relationships.

Conclusion: This study suggests that female adolescents with high scores of some personality types are at an increased risk of developing depressive symptoms in response to a variety of family adversities, though each personality plays a different role in the relationship. Intervention programs that incorporate both personal characteristics and family systems may be of benefit in alleviating the adverse effects of some types of personality traits and negative family factors on depressive symptoms in female adolescents.

Keywords: Personality trait; Parenting; Family adversity; Depressive symptoms; Adolescents


Epidemiological and clinical studies have revealed a variety of psychosocial factors that account for the increased risk of depression during adolescence, including being female, [1] personality type, [2] and familial adversities [3]. These vulnerabilities are intertwined and the mechanisms toward the occurrence or recurrence of depression are complex [4]. For example, economic pressures are associated with parental depression, which is in turn related to marital conflict and disrupted parenting. The disrupted parenting then acts as a mediator in the relationship between the family adversity process and adolescent maladjustment in boys [5]. Although a broader overview of the multilevel risk factors has been advocated in psychiatric epidemiology, [6] still little, however, is known about how personal and family environment factors interact to influence depressive symptoms among female adolescents.

An array of childhood family environment factors has long been acknowledged to be associated with concurrent and subsequent depressive symptoms. Dysfunctional parenting is one of the most frequent investigated factors among those family adversities [7,8]. Low care and high control of parent-child bonding (i.e., the ‘affectionless control’ type of parenting) has been proposed to be related to depression [9,10]. However, it is interesting to note that no synergistic effect of combined care and control was found. Rather, low maternal as well as low paternal care were independently associated with a higher rate of adolescent depressive disorder; [9] while the association between parental control and depression were relatively small both in western [9] and eastern [11] societies. This implies that in exploring the etiology of psychopathology, parenting data from father and mother are both needed. In addition, care and protection of parenting are better separately evaluated, rather than being combined as domains of parenting style, so as not to overlook the independent effect of each dimension of parenting.

Many other family environment factors such as family functioning, marital status of parents, and economic status also show an effect, independent or interrelated, on the occurrence of depressive symptoms in children. For instance, increases in parental conflict and decreases in parental monitoring have been associated with increases in child depressive symptomatology [3]. Parental functioning and parenting skills also play a role in adolescent functioning following divorce [12]. For girls, lower family income uniquely predicted increases of subsequent internalizing behavior [13]. These difficulties or adversities derived from a negative family environment that hampers children from developing “the internal and interpersonal coping skills needed to buffer against the family, social, and community stressors that can cause or exacerbate depression [14].” Thus, to understand how risk factors of adolescent depressive symptoms interact, we should consider not only the ‘external’ family environment factors but also include the ‘internal’ personal characteristics.

From the context of personal characteristics, our recent study found that females were around three times more likely than males to show major depressive disorder among non-referred adolescents [15] and some specific personality trait (e.g., neuroticism) played an important role on the episode of depressive symptoms. [2] In light of studies containing different levels of risk factors, parenting experience in early life is an important determinant for the development of personality traits [16,17]. Although half or more of the variation in personality dimensions was explained by inheritance, [18-20] the effect of parenting on variations in personality traits was also substantial according to studies in twins reared apart [21,22]. Therefore, researchers speculated that dysfunctional parenting, by influencing the development of personality, predisposed young people to psychopathology in later life [16,23]. From this point of view, personality might serve as a mediator in the relationship between parenting and depressive symptomatology. Moreover, it seems that only some specific temperaments show effects on the relationship in a preadolescent sample [24]. However, few studies have considered whether specific personality traits mediate dysfunctional parenting to adolescent depressive symptoms. Additionally, efforts for exploring the relationships of other family factors (e.g., poor family functioning, marital status, and family economic status) with personality traits on depressive symptoms among adolescents are still lacking. By examining the mediational process, the “black box” between the connection of family adversities and depressive symptoms could be further understood [25,26].

To evaluate effects of dysfunctional parenting and other family adversities on mental problems among youths, it is also valuable to take cultural diversity into account. For example, authoritarian parenting was not as harmful in Islamic societies [27,28] as in Western ones. Whether there is a similar situation in Taiwan, which is a highly controlled society based on many traditions and codes of Chinese-root culture, is worth investigating. This study therefore focuses on: 1) Examining whether specific personality traits mediate dysfunctional parenting to depressive symptoms among Taiwanese female adolescents; and 2) Exploring whether there is also a mediation effect of specific personality traits between the relationships of poor family functioning, marital status, or family economic status and adolescent depressive symptoms. The study framework is presented in (Figure 1).