ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (9): 1029-1040.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.01029

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The influence mechanism of parental care on depression among left-behind rural children in China: A longitudinal study

Xinghua FAN1,Xiaoyi FANG2(),Yuesheng HUANG1,Fengju CHEN1,Si YU1   

  1. 1 Department of Education, Hunan First Normal College, Changsha 410205, China
    2 Institute of Developmental Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Received:2016-05-18 Published:2018-09-15 Online:2018-07-27
  • Supported by:


There are about 61.02 million left-behind rural children in China, who were left at their hometowns by one or both of their rural-to-urban migrant parents. As a result of parental migration, left-behind children receive compromised parental care and are at higher risk for depression than non-left-behind children. In light of the huge number of Chinese left-behind children and their heightened risk for depression, the association between parental care and left-behind children’s depression and the underlying mechanisms were examined in a sample of 279 fourth-graders and seventh-graders over 2.5 years. The analytic sample included 72 children left behind by both parents, 79 children left behind by fathers, and 56 non-left-behind children. These children’s family structure, guardians, and the left behind type remained stable across the 2.5 years.
The results showed that children left behind at home by one or both of their migrant parents reported less parental care and higher depression at both the pretest and the posttest than non-left-behind children. Depression assessed at posttest was higher than that at pretest among children left behind by both parents. When controlling for gender, parental care at pretest was associated with concurrent depression among left-behind children via self-esteem and neuroticism; parental care at pretest also was associated with left-behind children’s depression at posttest via self-esteem and neuroticism at posttest. When controlling for gender and posttest parental care, pretest parental care was marginally associated with posttest depression but the mediation effects via posttest self-esteem and neuroticism disappeared. Under either controlling condition, the interaction between pretest parental care and pretest friendship quality predicted posttest self-esteem and neuroticism. Specifically, associations between pretest parental care and posttest self-esteem and neuroticism were stronger among left-behind 7th-graders with higher friendship quality than those with lower friendship quality.
The findings of this study supported some propositions of the diathesis-stress theory on depression. Moreover, the findings have several practical implications for future intervention on reducing depression among left-behind children. Programs that aim to decrease those children’s depression should pay attention to strengthening their parental care, improving their self-esteem and emotional stability, and promoting their friendship quality.

Key words: left-behind rural children, parental care, depression, self-esteem, neuroticism, friendship quality

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