Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

African American Children's Adjustment: The Roles of Maternal and Teacher Depressive Symptoms

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

African American Children's Adjustment: The Roles of Maternal and Teacher Depressive Symptoms

Article excerpt

This study examined the unique and interactive roles of mother and teacher depressive symptoms in child adjustment in 277 African American single mother-headed families, as well as whether the associations differed depending on the age and gender of the child. Findings revealed a significant association between maternal depressive symptoms and child depressive symptoms in girls, but not boys. Moreover, the combination of higher levels of both mother and teacher depressive symptoms was associated with the highest level of child depressive symptoms and, for younger children, externalizing symptoms. The importance of considering the multiple social contexts in which children interact is discussed.

Key Words: child depressive symptoms, child externalizing problems, maternal depressive symptoms, teacher depressive symptoms.

Much has been written about the influence of maternal depression or depressive symptoms on the adjustment and development of children and adolescents. Several reviews of the literature leave little question that these children are at greater risk for a range of psychosocial adjustment difficulties (Cummings, DeArth-Pendley, Du Rocher Schudlich, & Smith, 2001; Forehand, McCombs, & Brody, 1987; Goodman & Gotlib, 1999; Kaslow, Deering, & Racusin, 1994). Children of mothers who are depressed or who manifest depressive symptoms are at greater risk for both internalizing and externalizing difficulties, as well as greater difficulties in peer relationships. Notably, the primary focus of this work has been married White families. Given the changing face of American families, the generalizability of this work to minority and disadvantaged families is questionable at best.

Although there has been some speculation that maternal depressive symptoms may account for less variance in socially disadvantaged families as a result of the high levels of chronic stress they confront (e.g., Goodman & Brumley, 1990), research to date suggests otherwise. For example, research with divorced White families has demonstrated a link between maternal depressive symptoms and adverse child outcomes in motherheaded families (Forehand, McCombs Thomas, Wierson, Brody, & Fauber, 1990; Thomas & Forehand, 1993). More recently and directly relevant, Petterson and Albers (2001) found some evidence to suggest that maternal depressive symptoms are related more strongly to the adjustment of preschoolers living in disadvantaged families versus advantaged families, and that there is no evidence to support that the relationship is stronger in advantaged families. In an earlier study by our research group, we provided evidence supporting a similar model of family transmission of depressive symptoms for both White, middle class, intact families and African American, innercity, predominantly mother-headed families (Jones, Forehand, & Neary, 2001). Unfortunately, the assessment of child adjustment was confined to depressive symptoms in the Jones et al. study. Consistent with the view of developmental psychopathologists who argue the need to study a broad and developmentally appropriate range of outcomes of children at risk (Cicchetti, 1984; Goodman & Gotlib, 1999; Rutter & Garmezy, 1983), the preliminary purpose of this study was to extend our research on the adverse consequences associated with maternal depressive symptoms in single mother-headed African American families by examining two domains of child adjustment: externalizing problems and depressive symptoms. Some of our recent research, although not focusing specifically on maternal depressive symptoms, suggests that different domains of child adjustment may be differentially sensitive to such maternal symptoms (Jones, Forehand, Brody, & Armistead, 2002). Furthermore, relative to our earlier work (Jones et al., 2001), we enlarged our sample with the intent of making it more representative by including families living in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. …

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