Is Overprotective Parenting Linked to Anxiety and Depression?

#BellLetsTalk #mentalhealthawareness

Ms. Amanda Sherman, BA, MA, PhD(c),  discusses her POGO-funded research study.

Your study looked at overprotective and overcontrolling parenting. Can you give us some examples of these two parenting styles?
I would define overprotection as a style of parenting that does not allow the child or emerging adult to experience stressful things. These parents might try to reduce harm even where the situation doesn’t require it. An overprotective parent might call their child’s friends to solve a problem or insist on driving them to destinations where they can easily walk or ride a bike. It is excessive care. Overcontrolling parenting has more to do with discipline and getting a child to behave in a specific way. A parent might say, “You can’t go out tonight because I don’t like some of your friends.” It is excessive control.

What is non-productive coping?
Coping strategies that are not effective in helping that person feel better (worrying, swearing,
avoidance and isolation, for example) are nonproductive because they may lead to more distress and anxiety. In children, one correlate of the development of anxiety disorders is overprotective parenting.

Are childhood cancer survivors more at risk for depression and anxiety?
When looking at levels of depression, we did not find that our sample differed significantly from  normative populations; but we did find that anxiety levels were markedly higher than the general population—participants’ scores on our questionnaire were within one standard deviation from the mean score of people with anxiety disorders. That was surprising to me and something we don’t yet know how to account for. Maybe for this population so much of their childhood was focused on getting better, that learning to cope with stress was less important than getting by and managing their illness. Now they are emerging adults and they are facing the potential late effects of their childhood disease, as well as regular life stresses, and perhaps they are less equipped to cope. These are hard questions to answer.

Amanda Sherman, BA, MA, PhD(c)

Ms. Amanda Sherman, BA, MA, PhD(c) was the recipient of the 2013 POGO Fellowship Award. Her research focused on maternal overprotection/overcontrol and its relationship to coping strategies, anxiety and depression in survivors of childhood cancer. Her study looked at 109 survivors aged 18-30 attending the POGO AfterCare Clinic at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. POGO AfterCare Clinics  monitor survivors at regular intervals so that potential long-term effects of treatment can be identified as early as possible.

You are doing your PhD in psychology. How did your career path lead you to study childhood cancer patients? 
I did a practicum placement with Norma D’Agostino at Princess Margaret, where I was doing therapy exclusively with young adult survivors of childhood cancer. We noticed that problems with lack of autonomy, separating from parents and non-productive coping strategies kept coming up.

What can we take away from this research?
Now that we have this evidence that says overprotective parenting and anxiety are an issue in this  population, we can target those parents and teach them how to socialize coping in their children. Even the oncologist can spend five minutes asking the parents and children a few targeted questions to
determine if there is a bigger issue, flag it, and refer the family to a psychologist to help them develop better coping skills. 

What do you hope will come from your study?
This is preliminary research but even posing the question is opening doors and people are looking for potential issues when perhaps they weren’t looking for them before. Next steps from a research standpoint: our measure of overprotective and overcontrolling parenting needs to be validated and the study needs to be replicated with a non-cancer control group. I want to disseminate this research any way I can. 

What does this POGO Fellowship Award do for your career?
This grant has allowed me to have time, space and community to do research. What I have enjoyed so much about POGO is how open minded everyone is about psychosocial issues, and psychosocial  development. It has been nice to be accepted and encouraged for studying these kinds of issues, and working with medical professionals has helped provide a different perspective. It has been humbling, rewarding and encouraging at the same time.

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