Welcome back to Culture Shock! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and is gearing up for the big winter storm that is supposed to hit the east coast this weekend. The latest models in the DMV suggest we’re mostly getting sleet, which is a bit disappointing after years of mild winters and very little snow.
This was my first Christmas since getting married, and it’s tough to figure out how to divide time between your family and your in-laws. We decided to spend Christmas Eve with my family and then flew to Florida on Christmas morning to see my husband’s family for a couple of days. I am very lucky in that pretty much all of my family members are conservative, so our political arguments are limited in scope.
Just before the holidays, I stumbled across a new Gallup study that had some fascinating findings on the impact of parents’ political ideology on their children. Specifically, children of very conservative parents have much better mental health outcomes than the children of liberals. I have been meaning to write about it for a while because it didn’t get much attention in the mainstream media, for reasons you can probably guess.
The study was conducted by Jonathan Rothwell, a principal economist at Gallup and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and published by the Institute for Family Studies. In June 2023, Gallup collected data from 6,643 parents and 1,580 adolescents on issues like adolescent mental health, parental demographics, parents’ political views, parenting practices, and more.
The study chiefly found that there are specific parenting practices that lead to better mental health outcomes for adolescents. Children respond the best to parents who are warm and affectionate but also set boundaries and discipline their children when necessary. For example, requiring a child to complete priorities set by parents before allowing them to play or relax, setting a regular routine for school days, hugging or kissing the child every day and responding quickly to a child’s needs are all associated with an approximately seven-percentage-point-higher chance of the child having good mental health. Alternatively, practices like finding it difficult to discipline a child or letting the child get his or her way in a conflict are associated with decreased mental health outcomes for the child.
Unsurprisingly (to me at least), the study also finds that conservative parents are more likely to adopt the warm, authoritative parenting style and thus have stronger relationships with their children. As a result, their children have much better mental health outcomes. Contrastingly, liberal parents are more likely to adopt a permissive parenting style, which is associated with a poor parent-child relationship and, consequently, poorer mental health outcomes for the child.
Seventy-seven percent of adolescents with very conservative parents reported good or excellent mental health, compared to just 55 percent of adolescents with liberal parents.
“As it happens, being raised by liberal parents is a much larger risk factor for mental health problems in adolescence than being raised in a low-income household with parents who did not attend college,” Rothwell writes.
Overall, Rothwell finds that parenting is one of the most important factors in adolescent mental health. This is key at a time when teen mental health is on the decline and no one seems to know exactly why.
Instead of getting to the core of this sad trend, many have explained it away, arguing that it’s simply the case that the stigma around mental health has declined and so more people are seeking therapy and treatment for their issues. Yet the more we seem to be talking about and “treating” mental health in this country, the worse our mental health seems to get. Reducing the “stigma” has had the unfortunate effect of glorifying mental illness, to the point that young people broadcast and brag about their increasingly bizarre self-diagnoses on social media as a way to seem unique or special. Labeling ourselves as mentally unwell can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; we pathologize normal emotions and view ourselves as helpless victims to diseases of the mind. Negative experiences or feelings quickly become the center of our world. Big Pharma pushes medication to “cure” us, even as the latest research debunks the idea that depression and anxiety are due to “chemical imbalances” in the brain, not to mention these medications have a litany of horrific side effects.
In summary, give your kids a hug every day and put them in timeout when they deserve it. You just might save their life.