A recent social science study adds a new wrinkle to what we know about why it's important to provide structure for kids. This analysis suggests that children who face high levels of uncertainty or trauma had a higher level of health problems as young adults. However, children whose parents, particularly mothers, paid attention to where their kids were and what they were doing showed much better health.
Researchers looked at information gathered in a nationwide study of more than 4,800 children that followed them for 23 years. In this analysis, the researchers compared childhood trauma to their later health as adults, and then compared their parents' limit-setting habits to those same health results. The results showed a higher correlation between childhood environmental risk and physical health problems at age 29. The study also found, however, that "parental vigilance (e.g., parental knowledge and solicitation of adolescents’ whereabouts as well as limit-setting)" correlated to better adult health.
One of the researchers noted that vigilant parenting is not the same as helicopter parenting or overly controlling parents. Dr. Katherine Ehrlich said,
"Communicating love and the desire to be part of your child's life, I think, is probably part of the magic ingredient of vigilant parenting that benefits the child. It's all about how kids are experiencing that vigilant parenting and how they're interpreting it. They don't feel like it's helicopter parenting. They just feel like their mom or dad really cares about them."
Youth organizations and agencies cannot replace caring parents. Our challenge is to find ways, either in public policy or in our day-to-day procedures, to support parents and help them stay in contact with their kids. This task can be particularly challenging in the teen years, when young people pull back from parents and seek independence. Even then, however, we need to support the parent-child bond, encourage communications, and support parents as best we can.