Balanced Parenting and Mental Health

A Definition of Mental Health

Mental health is a complex topic for research because it is so broad. Scientists may research anything related to a teen’s emotional, psychological, or social well-being to understand mental health.

This means they look at the links between parenting style and the chance a teen might develop issues such as anxiety or depression. Scientists also measure factors including self-esteem, life satisfaction, and resilience because these affect mental health too.

The Data on Mental Health among Teens

There is some consistency in the complex findings about mental health among teens. Recent estimates agree that 1 in 5 adolescents either currently have a diagnosable mental health disorder or have had one at some point in their life.

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in adolescents. Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show the percentage of youth with at least one Major Depressive Episode (MDE) diagnosis increased.

The definition of an MDE is a period of at least 2 weeks when a person experiences a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities. They must also report a majority of symptoms of clinical depression. The percentage of teens with an MDE diagnosis in 2016 was significantly higher than the percentage of teens in 2004.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more teens report “feeling sad or hopeless” in the past year than they do having a formal diagnosis of depression. Teens were more likely to self-report feelings of sadness and hopelessness (30% of teens in 2015) than receive a depression diagnosis (13% of teens in 2015).

Depression is not the only common mental health disorder in adolescence. Anxiety diagnoses are also commonly seen in adolescents. Anxiety is characterized by feelings of excessive uneasiness, worry, and fear. Recent statistics show:

  • Anxiety disorders occur in approximately 25% of 13- to 18-year olds.
  • 61% of college undergraduates reported feelings of anxiety in 2017.
  • Anxiety disorders often co-occur with feelings of depression.


It is important to note that a diagnosis of a mental disorder can be linked to suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. The national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) monitors trends in prevalence in suicide-related behavior.

Data shows long-term decreases in suicide-related behaviors from 1991-2015. However, recent trends (2009-2015) show an increase in considering suicide, making a plan to attempt suicide, and attempted suicide in adolescents.


When left untreated, mental health disorders can lead to serious consequences. If you’re worried or have a feeling something is wrong, you should take this seriously. Consult with a mental health professional, health care provider or contact one of the crisis services listed here.

  • 911
  • The National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741

You can also find additional resources and information here.

Research shows that coordinated, early intervention can yield successful outcomes for people with mental illness. Parents can support their children by educating themselves on their teen’s diagnosis and connect their teen to support services. To learn more, consider the following resources:

Although rising rates of mental health disorders are critical to note, it is also important to consider that there is a silver lining to these data.  In past decades, shame and stigma likely kept young people from reporting their uncomfortable emotional feelings.

We must continue to encourage young people to share their feelings.  When we know what they are going through, we can offer them the support they deserve and the treatment we know works.

The Impact of Balanced Parenting on Teens’ Mental Health

Countless studies come out each week but no one can be expected to read them all. We count on research called “systematic reviews,” where scientists collect results from dozens or hundreds of individual studies. These help them to quickly understand the facts from the latest studies.

For example, this is a review of 181 studies that tells us a few important truths about the link between parenting and teens’ mental health.

First, high levels of warmth and monitoring from parents lead to lower levels of anxiety and depression in teens.

Secondly, over-involvement by parents (“helicopter parenting”) leads to higher levels of anxiety and depression in teens.

The fact that these results have been shown repeatedly in many studies proves the strength of this finding. Balanced parenting has a positive impact on mental health in teens! Teens raised by parents using a balanced style are also found to have higher self-esteem, are more satisfied with life, and are more resilient.

How do Scientists Research Parenting Styles and Mental Health in Teens?

Scientists use surveys to measure mental health. These are similar to what you might be asked to fill out at the doctor’s office.

A popular tool is the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CESD) Scale. This survey instructs people to report on how often they had certain feelings during the past week. For example, “I was bothered by things that usually didn’t bother me,” “I felt fearful,” and “I could not get ‘going.’” In another survey scenario, they’ll ask teens to state if they agree or disagree with a series of statements.

Here’s one example: “I am able to do things as well as most other people.” Teens who agree with this statement, along with others like it, may have high self-esteem. Scientists collect responses to these questions along with surveys of parenting styles, which we talk about here.

About Andy Pool

Andrew Pool, Ph.D., M.Sc. is a Research Scientist at CPTC. He has a doctorate in Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Temple University.

Read more articles by this author

Get our weekly newsletter for practical tips to strengthen family connections.