Latino children at risk for depression due to authoritarian parenting styles

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Authoritarian parenting styles, which are typical in Hispanic families, may produce depression, anxiety, and somatization in children.

Every culture adheres to its own customs and practices. Though they may seem strange to you, it is simply the accepted way that they do things. Whether it is right or wrong is merely a matter of perspective; but sometimes the statistics do not lie.

A recent study found that common parenting styles that are practiced by Hispanic cultures can produce depression, anxiety, and somatization in their children.

The study, which was conducted at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work, looked at how common it was for children to show physical signs of sickness, despite having no physical reason for being sick. This is known as somatization, and researchers believe that these symptoms stem from internalizing anxiety and depression.

Researchers collected data from 661 Mexican and Dominican immigrant mothers and children. The children were all between the ages of four and six, and the study tested whether or not they were at risk for anxiety, depression, and other factors.

Of the children surveyed, nearly 50% of them were at risk for anxiety, with 10% at risk for depression and somatization as well. These rates increased over time and are reflective of the most common childhood mental health issues. In particular, Latino children seemed to display these conditions at a higher level than the general population. 

Obedience and Respect

Researchers believe that these numbers may be explained by the parenting styles inherent to Hispanic cultures. In general, Hispanic families tend to put more emphasis on obedience and respect for adult authority. This authoritarian style is characterized by clear rules, high standards, strict punishment, and little communication. These parents can often be highly controlling.

“Our study suggests that the disproportionate risk for anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts observed among Latino, compared to non-Latino, youths begins way before adolescence. By understanding how parenting can promote healthy emotional development starting early in a child’s development, we hope to develop programs to support Latino families in preventing these serious negative mental health outcomes,” said Esther Calzada, who led the study.

“Respeto” plays an important part in Latino childrearing culture. It is defined as being very compliant and accepting of authority figures. In Mexican-American children, it was congruent with somatization.

Somatization can be a huge hurdle for a child to overcome as they grow up. They can become very nervous around authority figures, which include teachers. It creates a very challenging learning environment that all children must try to cope with.

The full study has been published by the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

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