Studying anxiety in children and teenagers is obviously a very different task from examining anxiety in adults, usually because parental involvement plays such a large role in the lives of children and teens. Especially for teenagers who may be struggling not only with anxiety in their daily lives, but also with the stress that accompanies maturation, the presence and actions of parents becomes integral in dealing with anxiety.

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, teens whose parents accurately understand their experiences exhibit better cellular responses to anxiety and tend to cope with psychological stress better. The study suggests that accurate parental perceptions can be linked even to physical health.

The Day in the Life of a Teenager

In order to examine the relationship between an adolescent's daily activities and a parent's understanding of these activities, researchers had 116 parent-adolescent pairs write daily diary entries over the course of two weeks. Both the adolescents and the parents rated and recorded the daily demands on the adolescents. These daily stressors indicated whether the teens had high amounts of work at school or at home, and whether the teens had a positive day overall. The teens also recorded their levels of anxiety and depression daily.

The Correlation between Accurate Parental Perceptions and Anxiety

Upon examining and comparing the daily diary entries, researchers found that the accuracy of parental assessments of teenager's workloads was not associated with the teen's anxiety or depression levels. However, while parental understanding of workloads did not predict anxiety levels, teenagers whose parents more accurately understood the positivity of their day reported lower anxiety and depression levels. When parents and their teenage children agreed upon how good or bad their day was, the teenagers showed signs of better psychological adjustment to daily anxiety and stress.

The study also examined physical responses to stress, seeking to assess how parental understanding could affect biological mechanisms. The results of a wide variety of physical tests determined that adolescents whose parents understood the positivity of their day displayed greater immune cell sensitivity. This sensitivity results in lower levels of inflammation, which is associated with aging-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Lauren Human, head author of the study, emphasized that these results indicate the importance of examining how parent-teen relationships can affect mental health and anxiety-related biological mechanisms.

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Katherine J. Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S.
Sigal Sharf
Michele Rosenthal
Abigail Powers Lott, Ph.D.
Sigal Sharf



University of San Francisco

Lauren J. Human, Meanne Chan, Anita DeLongis, Laura Roy, Gregory Miller, and Edith Chen. Parental Accuracy Regarding Adolescent Daily Experiences: Relationships With Adolescent Psychological Adjustment and Inflammatory Regulation. Psychosomatic Medicine, October 2014; DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000105

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