Children grow up in different types of families and are dependent on the care provided by their parents or guardians. One of the responsibilities of the Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir) is to give advice to parents to contribute to good parenting in all types of families. In connection with this responsibility, they commissioned a systematic review of research that has investigated the relationships between different parenting practices or styles and children's well-being.
We carried out a systematic scoping review of systematic reviews. The systematic reviews we included summarized primary studies that have examined the relationships between different parenting practices and child well-being. We included only systematic reviews with a medium to high level of methodological quality.
We included nine systematic reviews that summarized results from over 70 primary studies (that included more than 130,000 study participants). The systematic reviews examined various outcomes in children, such as internalizing and externalizing difficulties, health-promoting behavior, and alcohol use/abuse.
The included systematic reviews showed that parents who were categorized as authoritative were associated with greater child well-being. Parents categorized as authoritarian or neglectful were associated with the opposite. In particular, parenting practices categorized as warm, welcoming, responsive, and supportive of the children were associated with increased child well-being. Parental practices categorized as hostile, dismissive, overbearing, and punitive were associated with decreased child well-being. Parental behaviors categorized as indulgent were associated with both positive and negative outcomes in children.
Discussion / Conclusion
Although the results show a clear pattern across many studies, they must be interpreted with caution as we cannot determine a causal relationships from the studies.
Children grow up in different types of families and are dependent on the care provided by their parents. Are certain parenting practices better than others for children?
One of the responsibilities of the Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir) is to give advice to parents and to contribute to good parenting in all types of families. As part of this responsibility, they commissioned a systematic review of the research that has investigated the relationships between different parenting practices/styles and children's well-being. Internationally, there is a large field of research on so-called parenting styles and their relationships with different outcomes in children. In a review (a systematic literature search with sorting) conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in 2018, almost a hundred literature reviews on this theme were identified. As a follow up to this review, Bufdir asked for a more detailed overview of the research in this field, including an overview of the results and possible conclusions that can be drawn.
We carried out a systematic scoping review of systematic reviews. The systematic reviews we have included have summarized primary studies that have examined the relationships between different parenting practices or styles and children's well-being. We chose to include only systematic reviews of moderate and high methodological quality as there is a large number of both systematic and other types of literature reviews in this field. Further, we focused on systematic reviews as they have been carried out according to a methodology which, to a greater extent than non-systematic reviews, ensures a specific method, transparency and quality - which makes them easier to compare and summarize.
We searched for systematic reviews and considered possible relevant systematic reviews according to predetermined criteria for inclusion. We have presented and summarized the included systematic reviews, i.e. presented and summarized information on the included studies, populations, parental practices, outcomes and results.
A systematic scoping review is intended to give an overall picture of the research in a field, research questions and results.
We included eight systematic reviews that summarized results from more than 70 primary studies. Overall, these systematic reviews included more than 130,000 study participants. The primary studies were observational studies that examined the relationships between parenting practices/styles and child well-being, with a cross-sectional or longitudinal design.
Most of the systematic reviews categorized the variable parenting practices according to Baumrind's classic parenting model, or used a variant of it. For this reason, we have presented parenting practices/styles based on Baumrind's parenting style model in our scoping review, categorizing them along two axes: warm-cold and control-chaos. This creates a 2 by 2 table presenting the four parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, neglectful. The eight systematic reviews examined whether and to what extent these parenting practices were correlated with different outcomes in children. The outcomes studied were: internalizing and externalizing difficulties in general, anxiety and depression more specifically, in addition to outcomes such as health-promoting behavior and alcohol use/abuse.
The main finding of the systematic reviews was that an authoritative parenting style was associated with increased children's well-being. Authoritarian or neglectful parenting was associated with poor/negative outcomes in children. In particular, parenting practices categorized as warm, accommodating, responsive, and supportive were associated with positive outcomes in the children. Parenting practices categorized as cold, dismissive, overriding, and punitive were associated with negative outcomes in children. Parental practices categorized as indulgent were associated with both positive and negative outcomes. However, there was variation in the strength of the correlations observed in the studies, with more weak than strong correlations presented. An interesting finding was that there were more significant correlations and stronger correlations between parenting practices that were categorized along the axis of warm / cold than along the axis control / chaos.
The associations seen in the studies probably seem self evident to many. Positive parenting practices are associated with positive outcomes in children, and vice versa. At the same time, the findings must be interpreted with caution. We do not know if children's well-being is as a direct result of the parenting practices investigated in the studies. This is partly because the studies have not been able to control for possible common genetics between parents and children, or determine the direction of the connection. Genetically informed studies indicate that there may be a common genetic risk factor underlying all mental health issues - and this risk factor may explain both neglecting, fearful and rigid parenting practices as well as psychosocial difficulties in children.
Studies of adopted children where researchers have information about both the biological mother, the child and the adoptive mother indicate that the child (personality / temperament / behavior) can influence the adoptive parents' care / parenting style. However, the same studies show that the adoptive parents’ parenting style (the degree of this) can influence the child's behavior, as measured at a later date. In this way, it is conceivable that parenting styles and children's behavior may be mutually influenced by one another. However, adoption studies also indicate that genetically vulnerable children are adversely affected by negative parenting practices – that is, develop a greater degree of psychosocial difficulties – while being positively affected by positive parenting practices – i.e., develop lesser psychosocial difficulties. For children without genetic risk, the researchers found no strong correlation between parenting style and children's psychosocial health. The results of these genetically informed studies may indicate that parental care styles may be of less importance when it comes to psychosocial development in children without genetic vulnerability, but may be of importance to vulnerable children.
Research that has examined the relationships between parental practices and children's well-being shows that parenting practices categorized as authoritative are associated with increased well-being in children, while parenting practices categorized as authoritarian or neglectful are associated with poor/negative outcomes in children. For parenting practices categorized as indulgent, the studies showed mixed results. However, these results must be interpreted with caution, as the studies included in this scoping review are not able to show causal relationships.