According to a recent poll from the Institute for Family Studies and the Gallup organization, children raised by moms and dads who embrace warm, rule-bound and disciplined parenting enjoy the best mental health.
In fact, the study found that socioeconomic differences within families had no bearing on a child’s mental health status. In other words, it’s not about the money – it’s about the strength of the bond forged between a parent and a child.
“Income doesn’t buy better parenting, and more highly educated parents do not score better, either,” writes IFS’s Jonathan Rothwell.
In what comes as a shock to those who tout the so-called liberating and permissive parenting style, the research is clear that authoritative parenting, which sets limits and establishes expectations, is far more likely to set up a child for success.
Conversely, liberal-minded parents are much less likely to establish boundaries and effectively discipline their children – a fact that results in poorer mental health outcomes for children.
Dr. Daniel Huerta, vice president of Parenting and Youth for Focus on the Family, has identified seven traits that effective moms and dads regularly employ.
First, they’re adaptable. “Parents strong in this trait help their child learn healthy ways to manage relational difference and life stress,” he says. “These parents bring patience, awareness, and flexibility to parenting moments — seeking God’s peacefulness in the midst of chaos.”
Second, they establish a strong expectation of respect – and personally demonstrate it, too.
Third, they’re intentional. Christian parents lead with their faith and allow their ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ guide the journey.
Fourth, they make sure the love they express is foundational and unconditional.
Fifth, they’re not afraid to establish firm boundaries. Children thrive when they know what’s in and out-of-bounds.
Sixth, they model forgiveness. They won’t hold past infractions over the heads of their children.
Finally, they model a posture of gratitude. They appreciate both the small and large gifts that come. “This outlook gives them an adaptive mind ready for communication and conflict resolution with their child,” says Dr. Danny. “This trait helps model a steadfast faith and hope in Christ.”
IFS’ Rothwell suggests it’s a major miss for the government and private medical insurers to ignore the most recent findings regarding the best pathway towards teen mental health.
“When it comes to teen mental health, the implication is that medical experts are the only people who can prevent illness or help if it arises—often with prescription drugs,” he laments. “Expert-led services that could heal relationships — through family or individual therapy, for example — are often not even covered by health insurance, in part because reimbursement rates are too low. Parents are disempowered and sidelined, and yet social science continues to show that their actions, judgments, and relationships are the key to their teen’s mental health.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) barely acknowledges the role that a parent’s relationship with their child plays in their overall mental health.
Parents matter, and specifically, both a mother and a father committed in marriage. Yet, faced with the overwhelming social science evidence that children do best with a married mom and dad in the picture, many commentators have either deliberately or inadvertently ignored the stability and good that marriage brings to a family and children. Its benefit cannot be overstated.
For thousands of years, Christians have been instructed to set limits, to “bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and to show their love by being “careful to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24).
Once more, social science about parenting appears to be catching up with the Bible.