The key to raising children into successful adults

Are you overprotective? Free range? A new study examined the effects of 5 different parenting styles on children to determine which one produces the most socially adjusted adults.

Erin Drago | Stocksy United

We all have our preferred parenting style, and we all love to believe (and debate) that our way is the best way. Of course, we never really know if we’ve succeeded or failed until our kids reach adulthood, and by then it’s too late! Which is why a group of researchers recently set out to answer the question once and for all: What are the effects of different parenting styles on children once they reach adulthood?

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The parenting types were separated into five, relatively self-explanatory categories: Supportive, strict, indulgent, uninvolved, and abusive. The result? Supportive parents produced the most socially well-adjusted, successful children. In “supportive” households, children were given more independence than usual, balanced by a healthy (but not obsessive) interest in their lives, school, and activities. All the other types of parenting styles on the spectrum, from the controlling helicopter parent to the ultra free-range parent, came with notable negatives.

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“People with a supportive upbringing are more likely to see their parents as positive role models,” Professor Nishimura Kazuo of Kobe University, one of the researchers, explained. “[This] attitude is also linked to higher marriage rates, and a desire for larger numbers of children.”

We find no evidence supporting the idea that marriage and cohabitation come to resemble each other in terms of stability for children.”

To sum it up, loving but appropriately disciplined childrearing produces individuals who admire their parents, seek those admirable qualities in a spouse, and want to raise lots of children using the same methods. Nothing earth-shattering, especially considering the haziness with which each parenting style was described.

What is more surprising may be what the study left out: the role of family stability. Especially with 50 percent of American marriages collapsing in divorce, and increasing numbers of kids being born to unmarried parents.

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As the Institute for Family Studies confirms, even cohabitating couples don’t improve the solidity of a family environment for a child. “We find no evidence supporting the idea that … marriage and cohabitation come to resemble each other in terms of stability for children,” they report.

In general, unstable families and single parent families give their kids less attention, less affection, and less consistent discipline.

So which, if either, matters more? Does one’s parenting style have a greater influence on a child’s prosperity in adulthood or does a stable family in which parents remain happily married play a greater role? As Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, professor of sociology at University of Virginia explained, both are crucial, but one often paves the way for the other.

“Both family structure and family process matter,” Dr. Bradford said. In other words, neither the structure of a family, specifically in regard to parents’ marital status, nor the processes through which the children are raised, can be discounted.

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“But family process is probably the most important predictor,” he continued. “If you’re a single parent, it’s harder to maintain your energy, your affection. In general, unstable families and single parent families give their kids less attention, less affection, and less consistent discipline.”

Raising children, no matter how rewarding, requires a tremendous amount of self-sacrifice and doing so without a committed partner takes extraordinary strength and grace.

So while a supportive parenting approach has the most positive effects on a child in his or her adult years, it’s unfortunately not a method that’s easily put into practice in just any family structure. “The most important thing you can do for your kids is to be affectionate and engaged with them, but that’s much easier to accomplish in a stable married family than it is in any other arrangement,” Bradford said.

In our imperfect world, unpredictable circumstances often rule out children’s chances of being raised in a home by both parents as husband and wife. Although this does not at render his or her parents incapable of nurturing in a supportive manner, it does make doing so more difficult.

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Raising children, no matter how rewarding, requires a tremendous amount of self-sacrifice and doing so without a committed partner takes extraordinary strength and grace. Things like attention, affection, and routine discipline are far more difficult to provide consistently without the committed parenting partner.

As Dr. Bradford affirmed, “Speaking as a sociologist, the environment of a stably married family is more conducive to a high quality family life. It doesn’t guarantee it by any stretch, but it makes it easier to achieve.”

 

Elizabeth Pardi
Elizabeth Pardi

Elizabeth Pardi is a New York-born, Virginia-raised, Ohio-dwelling freelancer. She spends her days laughing, learning and running her way through life with her superstar spouse and their charmingly passionate one-year-old.

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