'Authoritative parenting' is best for young adults, studies say

Published: Sunday, April 1 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Wendy Heath talks with her 17 year old daughter Emily Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at home.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Ryan and Wendy Heath are raising a family in Sandy. They live with their three teenagers in a quiet neighborhood. Their oldest, 17-year-old Emily, is a junior in high school and already making plans for college. Her parents are preparing to support her financially through this transition. But if she decides to skip college and head out on her own, she knows her parents will withhold financial support as a result.

Giving their children choices is important to the Heaths. They want their teens to know they have both choices and consequences to those choices, but hope the kids feel free to be open about their emotions. This is a deviation from the way Wendy Heath was raised, which involved more rules and fewer opportunities for dialogue. That method wasn't ideal for her, because her opinions often clashed with theirs.

"I certainly knew what their ideal was but there was never any discussion," Wendy Heath said. "That was just how it had to be."

The Heaths follow a parenting style associated with positive outcomes in children and emerging adults. Known as authoritative parenting, this style involves clear rules and expectations for their children. The punishments for rule infringement are logical and fair, not harsh. Parents try to maintain an open environment where children can ask questions and have open dialogue with their elders.

A growing body of research has found that children raised in that environment have more positive outcomes than their peers whose parents are either more controlling or more permissive. These children show fewer signs of depression and anxiety than those whose parents are controlling or permissive.

Families nationwide are turning to authoritative parenting as research continues to show the benefits of the method.

The Heaths said they have seen positive outcomes in their relationship with Emily and their other children due to authoritative parenting. They plan to continue with this style as Emily sets out on her own, knowing their job is not over once she turns 18.

The Heaths will also become part of the demographic of American parents who provide financial support to their adult children — a group which has grown to 59 percent of parents, according to a May 2011 study done by Harris Interactive, commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education and Forbes.com.

Parents have to do more to care for their young adults today, said Larry Nelson, a professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University who studies emerging adulthood and factors related to children's social development, for several reasons. The average age of marriage is rising, more education is needed to be successful, higher education is increasingly expensive and the economy is uncertain, to name a few.

A recent study shows the importance of positive relationships between parents and their adult children. Emerging adulthood is a time when young adults need support, said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor of psychology at Clark University and author of "Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties."

Parental support is needed in part because emerging adults are often launching lives on their own, without their support group of friends from earlier years.

Caroline Barry, associate professor of psychology at Loyola University, said parents may struggle with the realization that they will not have the same level of control over their children's actions as they had in the teenage years.

"They still need to parent, but it should look and act differently than parenting in high school age," Barry said.

The idea of parents micromanaging their lives does not sit well with most emerging adults, she said. Although emerging adults still want support from their parents, they prefer it "in less of a hands-on way."

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