Parenting is a complex reality where influence meets responsibility. Parents shape a child’s present and future.
After recent surges in adolescent mental health problems and suicide, the nation’s leading public health authorities have declared an emergency.
Gallup, a global analytics and advisory firm, launched a study in the summer of 2023 to better understand the fuel behind the teen mental health crisis. Before seeking to understand the current state of teen mental health, it’s important to review the decades of research that link parenting styles to teen mental health.
In the mid-20th century, a significant surge of empirical research on parenting and child development took place. Pioneering psychologists Eleanor Maccoby, Diana Baumrind, and G.R. Patterson laid the foundation, highlighting the pivotal role of firm but warm parenting styles in fostering socially competent and mentally healthy children. Baumrind’s concept of “authoritative parenting” emphasized the necessity of considering a child’s needs while maintaining parental authority in decision-making. The essence of authoritative parenting lies in the delicate balance of affection, responsive attention to a child’s needs, and setting expectations for responsible behavior.
Research spanning over a thousand studies has consistently affirmed that authoritative parenting predicts fewer mental health issues and problematic behaviors in adolescents.
Conversely, both authoritarian and permissive parenting styles correlate with higher risks of mental health problems and behavioral issues.
The significance of parental influence goes beyond theoretical frameworks. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97) emphasizes that qualities such as responsiveness, routine experiences, and parental monitoring predict fewer internalizing and externalizing problems in youth. The longitudinal nature of studies like the NLSY97 reveals the enduring effects of parenting into adulthood. Better relationships with parents during adolescence significantly correlate with improved physical and mental health well into an individual’s late 30s.
Internationally, studies echo these findings, emphasizing the universal benefits of firm and warm parenting. While genetic factors may play a role in parenting responses, empirical evidence highlights that changes in the parent-child relationship distinctly impact adolescent mental health, suggesting a deeper influence than genetics alone.
Understanding the impact of parenting on teen mental health is crucial.
So, which parenting practices best predict mental health outcomes? According to the 2023 Gallup study, the most powerful parenting practices identified in the survey relate to regulation and enforcement. The results show it’s less likely an adolescent will be in good mental health when their parents are passive or set little to no boundaries. Likewise, it is more likely adolescents will be in good mental health when parents share expectations, build routines, and provide tasks and responsibilities to be completed. Also, daily displays of affection and responding quickly to a child’s needs both predict better mental health.
Parents carry a large weight on their shoulders. For some, this information and hypothesis may make the weight feel even heavier. Seeking connection over control and setting firm boundaries when needed will provide the best outcome for your relationship and your child long-term.
Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].