Positive parenting improves multiple aspects of health and well-being in young adulthood

Abstract

Aspects of positive parenting have previously been linked to better offspring health and well-being1,2, though often, individual outcomes have been examined separately. Examining multiple outcomes simultaneously, over multiple aspects of parenting, may provide a more holistic picture of the parenting–health dynamics3,4. Methodological limitations such as reverse causation—good childhood outcomes that make parenting easier—also remain a concern in many previous observational studies5. Here we examined the associations between multiple aspects of parenting (including parent–child relationship satisfaction concerning love, parental authoritativeness and family dinner frequency) and various subsequent offspring psychosocial, mental, behavioural and physical health and well-being outcomes. We analysed longitudinal data from the Growing Up Today Study 1 (N = 8,476, mean baseline age = 12.78 years) and Growing Up Today Study 2 (N = 5,453, mean baseline age = 17.75 years). Both parenting and health outcomes were based on offspring self-reports. The results suggest that greater relationship satisfaction was associated with greater emotional well-being, lower risk of mental illness, eating disorders, overweight or obesity and marijuana use. To a lesser extent, greater parental authoritativeness and regular family dinner were also associated with greater offspring emotional well-being, fewer depressive symptoms, lower risk of overeating and certain sexual behaviours. This study strengthens the evidence for a public health focus on improving parenting to promote population health and well-being.

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Data availability

The data of the NHSII and the GUTS are not publicly available. Further information including the procedures to obtain and access data from the NHSII and the GUTS is described at https://www.nurseshealthstudy.org/researchers (email: nhsaccess@channing.harvard.edu) and http://nhs2survey.org/gutswordpress/index.php/researchers/information-for-researchers/.

Code availability

All statistical analyses were performed in SAS 9.4. The code used to generate the results presented in the manuscript are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by funding from the Templeton Foundation (grant no. 52125 and no. 61075) and the US National Institutes of Health (grant CA222147) awarded to T.J.V. The National Institutes of Health supports the NHSII (grant UM1CA176726) and the GUTS1 and GUTS2 (grants R01HD066963, R01DA033974 and 2R01OH0098003CDC). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. We thank the Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School for their support in conducting this study.

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T.J.V. developed the study concept. Y.C., J.H., B.M.C. and T.J.V. contributed to the study design. Y.C. had full access to the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and accuracy of the data analysis. Y.C. drafted the manuscript. Y.C., J.H., B.M.C. and T.J.V. provided critical revisions and approved the final submitted version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ying Chen.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1–20, and Supplementary References.

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Chen, Y., Haines, J., Charlton, B.M. et al. Positive parenting improves multiple aspects of health and well-being in young adulthood. Nat Hum Behav 3, 684–691 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0602-x

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