Harsh economic times may be harming children in unexpected ways, according to a new study.
Gustavo Carlo, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri, and his colleagues set out to test the impact that parents' financial stress has on their kids. (The results were published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.)
The research team interviewed parents about their financial stress as well as how connected they felt to their children (determined by ranking themselves on questions such as "I feel close to my child" and "I feel understood by my child").
The children, who were between 10 and 14 when the study began, were also interviewed to determine their "pro-social behaviour." They were asked to rank themselves on statements that included "I help others even if it's not easy for me" and "I really enjoy doing small favours for my family."
Those interviews, of mostly white, college-educated, middle-class families, were conducted in 2007, just as the economy was beginning to turn. The families were interviewed again the following year.
Stressing about money correlated with a higher likelihood of depression among parents, the researchers found. And the more depressed parents were, the less likely they were to feel connected to their children. Perhaps most worrisome of all, the study also found that parental depression worsened a child's pro-social behaviour.
Considering how adept kids are at picking up on subtle cues – you may be able to hide the bank statements, but not how you feel about them – dealing with money problems head-on is the best way to address the issue, Prof. Carlo told The Atlantic.
"Parents may need to seek support from relatives (including any available spouse or partner), school counsellors, therapists, friends or others," he said. "Of course, seeking help to address the root issue (economic difficulties) has to be part of the long-term solution. Once parents have begun to address the stress and emotional issues, then they need to focus on their relationships with their teens and to provide the support they need."
How much should children know about their parents' financial situation? Do you talk to your kids about money?