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Authoritative parenting reduces the risk of suicide in young people

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The parenting style which is experienced in childhood determines mental health later in life

Children who are brought up by their parents with affection, but also with strict control and rules, have a significantly lower risk of committing suicide as teenagers. This has now been established by researchers at the Centre for Health Services Research (head of centre: Prof. Dr. Elmar Gräßel), part of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (head of department: Prof. Dr. Johannes Kornhuber) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, in co-operation with the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony and Hanover Medical School. The researchers recommend that the findings are integrated into existing preventative measures. For example, parents should be informed about the benefits and possibilities of authoritative parenting as early as during antenatal classes or medical examinations during early childhood.

The research group led by PD Dr. Carolin Donath from Universitätsklinikum Erlangen showed in their study that the authoritative parenting style has a protective effect for children. ‘Children who had experienced both a great deal of care and a high level of control and rules from their parents were less likely to have made serious attempts at suicide at the age of 15 than those who had experienced different forms of parenting,’ explains Dr. Donath. In contrast to the authoritarian parenting style where parents expect obedience from their children, hardly discuss or explain their decisions and tend to use punishment as a parenting tool, parents who adopt an authoritative style of parenting value their child’s own will and consider their interests. In such an authoritative approach, the parents’ point of view still takes priority and arguments are used to put this opinion across convincingly.

The research group was able to show that, in contrast to the authoritative parenting style, the risk of suicide attempts during teenage years was higher if a rejecting-neglecting parenting style was used during childhood. ‘This means that children who experienced little parental affection and, at the same time, little parental control had less favourable conditions for their mental health during adolescence,’ explains Dr. Donath. An authoritarian parenting style, on the other hand, had no influence on suicide attempts but was associated with a higher occurrence of suicidal thoughts.

9% of 15 year-olds in Germany have attempted suicide

The researchers also determined additional risk factors for suicide attempts in young people. These include (female) gender, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), smoking, binge drinking, a migrant background and parents separating. In Germany, 9% of 15-year-olds have seriously attempted suicide. Around 40% have thought about committing suicide before. This representative study was based on a questionnaire which surveyed 44,134 young people from all over Germany.

The results of the study have recently been published in BMC Pediatrics.2014, 14:113

DOI: 10.1186/1471-2431-14-113 and are available online free of charge at www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2431/14/113.

Further Information:

PD Dr. Carolin Donath
Tel.: 09131/85-34526
carolin.donath@uk-erlangen.de

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