Achieving autonomy through early sexual debut: contribution of parenting style and the subsequent development of depression
Three parenting constructs were tested as predictors of early sexual debut and young adult depression in a longitudinal study of 4610 adolescents initially surveyed between the ages of 13 and 17-years-old. Three models were tested for both males and females in three distinct age groups; 13-14, 15-16 and 17-19 years. Parent involvement was consistently related to decreased risk for adolescent risky sex and young adult depression, especially for girls. Parent control did not reliably predict early sexual debut or young adult depression as was hypothesized with the exception that parents tended to increase control for older girls who reported earlier sexual debut in comparison to boys of the same age. The hypothesis that intrusive parenting, defined by high involvement and control, would exacerbate negative outcomes was partially supported in terms of later depressive symptoms of the oldest male and the youngest female groups. The interaction of parental involvement and control predicted young girls’ self-reported depressive symptoms in young adulthood and also predicted older boys’ self-reported young adult depressive symptoms. It appears that the relationship between the parenting constructs, potentially risky adolescent behavior and young adult depression is complex and may depend on parents’ ability to appropriately balance and adjust levels of involvement and control to fit the developmental capabilities of their children. Early sexual debut did appear to predict young adult depression for females in the youngest and for boys in the middle age groups. Implications for developmental theory and intervention strategies are described in terms of educating parents to provide supportive family environments to protect adolescents from early sexual debut and subsequent depression.