How Communication Affects Teen Mental Health

By Beth Leipholtz 10/31/18

The more removed teens feel during adolescence, the less likely they are to trust their parents, a new study suggests.

Mother trying to talk to teen who has fingers stuck in her ears.

A number of environmental factors can lead to anxiety and depression in teens, and a recent study has added another to the list: a fragmented parent-child bond. 

According to WSB-TV Atlanta, researchers worked with a group of teens and monitored them through stages of adolescence. More specifically, the researchers followed 335 children from affluent white-collar communities from the 6th grade in 1998 until they turned 18.

Each year, they were given an annual assessment in which they rated their attachment levels to each parent, as well as their levels of depression and anxiety. 

As the teens progressed in adolescence, their relationships with their parents saw significant changes, especially at the middle school level.

Researchers found that preteens felt more than one-and-a-half times as alienated at the middle school level as they did earlier on. As a result, they trusted their parents less and researchers say communication dropped about four times as much. 

Such teens who felt alienated were also found to have lost more trust in their mothers than fathers and as a result, were more likely to have higher levels of anxiety and depression by 12th grade. 

According to researchers, most relationships stabilized again toward the end of high school. However, the more removed a teen felt during their adolescence, the less likely they were to communicate well with their parents or trust them.

Study co-author Dr. Suniya Luthar, a foundation professor of psychology at Arizona State University, told ABC News that parents can play a role in curbing these feelings by creating strong connections with their children and overlooking attitudes.

“It would be helpful if, during this time of adolescence, parents would look past all the moodiness, distance and irritability, and express feelings of love and affirmation,” Luthar said. 

Luthar also says that parents have to take care of themselves in order to take care of and connect with their children.

“Parents, particularly moms, hurt emotionally as well,” Luthar said. She added that when in crisis, mothers “act as first responders, meaning they do their best to diffuse a stressful situation.”

As such, mothers can be risking their own mental wellbeing, Luthar says. “Don’t pour from an empty or leaking cup,” she said. “Fill it first.”

According to Psych Central, researchers chose to collect responses only from children rather than children and parents.

“We wanted the child’s perspective on the relationship with their parents because ultimately it doesn’t matter much how parents think they are doing,” Luthar told Psych Central. “It’s what the children experience that is far more important in terms of effects on their mental health.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.