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More caring but less controlling parents raise happier children

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Posted September 11, 2015

There is no denying that different parents have different attitudes towards raising their children. Some think that only by being strict you can make your child to be a good person, while others do not like establishing rules and think that children should be able to express themselves in whatever ways they can come up with. Now scientists at the University College London have concluded that actually there are patterns, by following which parents can raise their children to be happier people later in life.

Parental care has a life-long effect on children. Adults who had less psychologically controlling and more caring parents tend to have higher mental wellbeing. However, behavioural control seems to have no significant effect on mental health later in life. Image credit: Hildewagelmans via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Parental care has a life-long effect on children. Adults who had less psychologically controlling and more caring parents tend to have higher mental wellbeing. However, behavioural control seems to have no significant effect on mental health later in life. Image credit: Hildewagelmans via Wikimedia, Public Domain

This lifelong study of people in England, Scotland and Wales has demonstrated that these people who found their parents to be more caring and less psychologically controlling during their childhood were likely to be happier and more satisfied throughout their lives. Results of such care from parents (participants noted that they equally needed attention from both parents) are actually life-long.

Although care of mother and father had a great effect on mental wellbeing through to middle age, it had even greater association with wellbeing in later life (age 60-64). Furthermore, we all know that some parents are seeking to control their children by establishing rules or simply giving orders and tasks, but this research found such behaviour has tremendous consequences for mental wellbeing of the child later in his life.

Scientists discovered that effect of very controlling parental care on mental wellbeing of adults is actually similar to the recent death of a close friend or relative. Such results seem to be a bit extreme. However, scientists conducted a long study, monitoring 5,362 people since their birth in 1946. 2,800 participants still remain under active follow-up. 3,699 participants had complete wellbeing data at ages 13-15, approximately 2,000 of them had such date by 60-64.

The research was conducted in order to highlight how parenting can have long-term positive or negative impacts on wellbeing that continue through to older age. It seems that control of parents can have bigger impact only on children. However, effect of good or not so good parental care last throughout the lifetime.

Dr Mai Stafford, lead author of the study, explained that those people who had parents who showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle and late adulthood. She said: “By contrast, psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. Examples of psychological control include not allowing children to make their own decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence.”

Scientists studied two kinds of parental control separately. It turned out that behavioural control, for example, not letting children go out as often as they like, had no significant effect on mental wellbeing in later life. However, psychological control had a very significant effect.

Scientists say that it is known that if children share a secure emotional attachment with their parents, they are usually better at forming secure attachments in adult life. Furthermore, warmth and responsiveness of parents has been shown in other studies to promote social and emotional development. But psychological control, which was described by participants of the study with such phrases as ‘Tried to control everything I did’ and ‘Tried to make me feel dependent on her/him’, limits child’s ability to control his own behaviour.

This research once again shows how parental care is extremely important to the mental wellbeing of future generations. Scientists say that there are tools to help parents to raise their children mentally healthy and with needed skills to control their emotional state. Firsts of all, a healthy work-life balance should be promoted as parents need time to spend with their children to develop healthy relationship. Secondly, economic and other pressures on parents could be reduced in order for them to be less stressful and have a better emotional state while interacting with their children.

Source: UCL

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