Researchers at University College London (UCL) have found that children brought up in families with less controlling parents lead happier lives.
The researchers found that care from both the mother and father were equally important predictors of their children’s mental wellbeing through to middle age.
However, paternal care had a greater association with wellbeing in later life (age 60 to 64), the researchers say.
The team also found that people whose parents exerted greater psychological control during childhood had significantly lower mental wellbeing during adulthood, compared with children with less controlling parents.
The effect of having controlling parents is of similar significance to the recent death of a close friend or relative, the team says.
The study monitored the mental wellbeing of participants in the Medical Research Council (MRC) National Survey of Health and Development between the ages of 13 and 64.
The survey had tracked 5,362 people since their birth in 1946 – of whom 2,800 remain under active follow-up.
A total of 3,699 participants had completed wellbeing data at ages 13 to15, falling to approximately 2,000 participants by the ages of 60 to 64.
Factors such as parental separation, childhood social class, maternal mental health and participants’ personality traits were taken into account in the results.
Lead author of the study, Dr Mai Stafford, said:
“We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle and late adulthood.
“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.”
“Psychological control was studied separately to behavioural control, which had no significant effect on mental wellbeing in later life.
“Behavioural control broadly refers to not letting children have their own way, for example not letting them go out as often as they like.
“We know from other studies that if a child shares a secure emotional attachment with their parents, they are better able to form secure attachments in adult life,” Dr Stafford added.
“Parents also give us a stable base from which to explore the world, while warmth and responsiveness has been shown to promote social and emotional development.
“By contrast, psychological control can limit a child’s independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behaviour.”
The findings of the study are published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.
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