In the current study, based on the results from a large population-based sample of Chinese adolescents, we found that parenting styles were significantly associated with SH behaviors. Moreover, part of this association could be mediated by impulsivity. Further analysis indicated that, for parenting styles of mother and father, only mother’s over-protection was positively associated with SH. This conclusion was in line with two previous studies, which suggested adverse parenting styles were risk factors of SH and suicidal behaviors among a representative sample of 3653 Chinese adolescents [11, 25].
After controlling for potential confounding factors, the hypothesized path model achieved ideal compatibility with our data, and it suggested that impulsivity was a meaningful mediator in the association between parenting styles and SH. Impulsivity is widely associated with many adolescent risk behaviors, especially SH . Existing studies showed that adolescents who had engaged in SH generally reported a higher impulsivity level . A longitudinal study revealed that the association between impulsivity and SH may be reciprocal: a higher level of impulsivity may lead to increased risk of SH, meanwhile, more frequent SH would aggravate impulsivity . Some established models of impulsivity, like UPPS-P model and Barratt model, suggested that individuals who reported SH were more inclined to act impulsively when experiencing negative emotions or events [13, 27–29]. Another possible theory is that, impulsivity may increase the possibility of SH by promoting the process of SH ideation or thoughts [30, 31].
Impulsivity, as a personality trait, has a close relationship with parenting styles . Parenting styles influence child development in the forms of behaviors and personalities. Adverse parenting styles may lead to early maladaptive schemas (EMS), which is taking form in early childhood, with the long-lasting impairing effect stretches into the whole adulthood, can induce affection and personality disorders [32–35]. Given all above, it is plausible to identify significant mediation via impulsivity in the association between parenting styles and SH. This likely mediation also suggests that, in order to prevent parenting styles related SH in adolescents, except for direct intervention which aiming at cultivating positive parents rearing style, impulsivity-centered intervention measures can also be designed and applied. In fact, some promising behavior management procedures, like the Good Behavior Game (GBG), could be incorporated into coping strategies of impulsivity or other disruptive behaviors . Nevertheless, the performance of GBG should be meticulously evaluated before implementation.
Another important finding is that, parenting styles of father and mother played different roles in the hypothesized path model. Although the development of child is influenced by multiple domestic and foreign determinants, the interaction of family climate and parenting styles was deemed the most critical. It has also been acknowledged that the unique role of parents should be equally noticed in the process of child growth . Attachment theory suggested that closeness with the caregivers in the early age of children will profoundly influence their cognitive and emotional development in the subsequent phase of growth, father and mother showed different roles in this process . Hence, as the primary guardian of children, mother’s parenting styles may present stronger influence.
Parental over-protection reflects stricter attitude and a higher level of control, has been found negative effect on confidence and independence of children, which may in turn lead to mental health issues . For instance, a higher level of parental control could predict depression and anxiety among adolescents [40, 41]. Because of cultural differences, Chinese parenting styles are distinct from which in western countries: Chinese parents, especially mothers, are more inclined to adopt over-protection parenting styles, which derived from traditional ideology, like Confucianism . A classic model of harsh maternal parenting in China is tiger mother, which is normally described as excessive control and harsh discipline on children . A longitudinal Study by Kim disclosed that tiger parenting is associated with high academic pressure, depression and sense of alienation, all are identified contributors to SH in youngsters. As the mediation of impulsivity in SH has only been found for mother’s over-protection, it is reasonable to suspect that, for adolescents who reported an experience of harsh maternal parenting style, intervention measures in reducing impulsivity may achieve better effect in SH prevention and control.
Some limitations of the current study should be further addressed. First, because of the cross-sectional design, causal inference is prevented. We can only put forward a hypothetical model in illustrating the possible mediation of impulsivity in the association between parenting styles and SH, therefore stronger evidence (such as prospective study) is warranted. Besides, the subjects of this study were sampled from a district in southwest China, therefore generalization of study results to the general Chinese adolescent population should be dissuaded. Studies with expanded populations should be conducted. Finally, we relied on self-report method to collect information, thus there is a chance that information bias may occur. Studies which adopt multiple reporting sources (such as parents and relatives) should be considered.
Despite all the limitations, our study is a novel attempt in investigating the mediation role of impulsivity in the association between parenting styles and SH among Chinese adolescents. Our major findings can provide valuable information in understanding the complicated connection between parenting styles and SH. Future studies with prospective design are needed to corroborate the mediation of impulsivity that we found.