Mental health problems are rising, especially among younger people, indicating a need to identify determinants of the development of mental health over the life course. Parental involvement in their children’s studies, particularly in terms of academic socialisation, has been shown to predict better mental health in adulthood, as well as other more favourable health outcomes, but no study published so far has examined its impact on trajectories of mental health. We therefore sought to elucidate the role of parental involvement at age 16 on the life course development of internalised mental health symptoms.
In a population-based cohort (452 women and 488 men, 87 % of the eligible participants), we examined the association between parental involvement in their offspring’s studies, measured by teacher and pupil ratings at age 16, and an index of internalised mental health symptoms at the ages of 16, 18, 21, 30, and 43. Using latent class trajectory analysis, 5 different trajectories were derived from these indices: Very low stable (least symptoms), Low stable, Increasing, Moderate stable, and High decreasing (most symptoms). Multinomial logistic regression was used to regress trajectory membership on the parental involvement variables.
Teacher-rated parental interest in their offspring’s studies during the last year of compulsory school was associated with a lower risk of entering the Moderate stable (OR = 0.54; 95 % CI 0.30 to 0.98) and High decreasing (OR = 0.41; 0.18 to 0.91) trajectories, compared with the Low stable, also after adjustment for sex, parental social class and mental health, family unemployment and own school grades. Both these associations were present only in children with grades above the national average. Student-rated availability of assistance with homework was associated with a higher chance of entering the Very low stable trajectory in the whole sample (OR = 1.24; 1.07 to 1.43), in men (OR = 1.25; 1.05 to 1.48) and in those with above average grades (OR = 1.39; 1.13 to 1.72), and with a lower risk of entering the Moderate stable in women (OR = 0.74; 0.55 to 0.99), also after the same adjustments.
Parental involvement in their offspring’s studies may buffer against poor mental health in adolescence which may track into adulthood.
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