Parenting Practices and Adolescent Internalizing Symptoms in the United States, 1991–2019



      Adolescent internalizing symptoms are increasing in the United States. Changes in parenting practices, including monitoring and communication, have been hypothesized to contribute to these increases. We aimed to estimate trends in parenting practices and understand whether shifts in such practices explain increases in internalizing symptoms.


      Using 1991–2019 Monitoring the Future data (N = 933,645), we examined trends in five parental practices (i.e., knowledge [three combined indicators], monitoring [four combined indicators], communication, weekend curfew, social permission) with ordinal regressions. We tested associations between parental practices and indicators of being in the top decile of depressive affect, low self-esteem, and self-derogation using survey-weighted logistic regressions, adjusted for gender, race/ethnicity, grade, and parental education.


      The prevalences of parental practices have not changed over time, with the exception of increases in parental knowledge, specifically parents knowing where an adolescent is after school (1999–2019 mean increase: 4.34 to 4.61 out of 5) and knowing an adolescent's location (4.16–4.49) and company at night (4.26–4.51). Higher levels of each practice were associated with lower internalizing symptoms (e.g., adjusted odds ratio for a high depressive affect based on a one-unit increase in parental knowledge: 0.89, 95% confidence interval: 0.88, 0.90). Patterns were consistent across internalizing outcomes and decade.


      Parental knowledge, monitoring, and other practices are stable protective factors for adolescent mental health. These factors are not changing in a manner that would plausibly underlie increases in internalizing symptoms. Future interventions should provide resources that support these parental practices which are tied to adolescent internalizing symptoms.


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