How Parents Affect Their Children’s Mental Health

April 14, 2023

Many parents have their child’s physical health at the top of their priority list, but staying on top of their mental health is also critical for their growth and development.

A child’s mental health can be influenced by a multitude of things including genetics, environment, and even parenting styles. While you may not have control over their genetics, you can still steer your child toward health and happiness by creating a supportive environment and adopting a certain parenting style. This article will dive into the influences that may affect your child’s mental health and how to react to them.

How Family Affects Mental Health

Family relationships can have a huge impact on a child’s mental health, especially during their developmental years. A strong and positive family bond encourages resilience and emotional stability that will serve them well as they grow older. However, a new survey found that Americans are spending just 37 minutes of “quality time” as a family on weekdays.

Studies have shown that children who spend more time with their families are more likely to have better self-esteem, fewer behavior problems, and better social skills. Family quality time includes activities such as going out for meals, playing games together, or simply engaging in conversations as a family unit.

While the positive effects of family quality time are clear, it’s not just any sort of activity or interaction that produces these benefits. It’s essential that the interactions be meaningful and involve both verbal and nonverbal communication for them to be beneficial for the child’s mental well-being. Let’s get into a few factors that can impact this.

Related: 23 Fun Family-Friendly Spring Break Ideas


How Genetics Affect Mental Health

Let’s talk about mental health and genetics. We know that illness and disease can be passed down, and mental health disorders are no exception. Studies have shown that children of depressed parents were three times more likely to struggle with mental health and substance abuse disorders than those with neurotypical parents.

Parental mental health shouldn’t just be looked at biologically though; the symptoms of your condition can impact how you interact with your child as well. For example, those with depression may struggle with negative thoughts and feelings that make it difficult to be emotionally present with their children. Bipolar symptoms such as recklessness can make it difficult to establish needed routines. This can be stressful for both the parent and child and could affect not only their bond but the child’s development as well.

This doesn’t mean that parent’s struggling with mental health can’t connect with their children. There are several ways to nurture parent-child relationships.

  1. Focus on quality time. Instead of worrying about the amount of time you spend with your kids, try to focus on the quality of the interaction. Make an effort to be present, offer encouragement, and engage in activities that you both enjoy.
  2. Have conversations around mental health. This can be additionally helpful, as it can promote better understanding and clarity in your relationship with your child.
  3. Prioritize self-care. Taking care of yourself helps you better take care of others. Plus, teaching your children how to set boundaries and support their own mental health is invaluable.

How Environment Affects Mental Health

Children can face challenging or even disturbing experiences in childhood that can affect their development. These adverse events have been defined as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

ACEs include a vast range of traumatic situations children can experience, such as:

  • Abuse, violence, or neglect
  • Substance abuse at home
  • Mental health problems
  • Instability due to divorce, separation, or incarceration of a family member
  • Suicide attempt or death in the family

According to the CDC, 61% of adults have reported experiencing at least one ACE before the age of 18, with women and several minority groups being at a higher risk of experience four or more types of ACE.

Experiencing ACEs increases risk for substance abuse and health problems, including mental health. When children experience prolonged stress from ACEs, it can negatively impact their brain development and lead to mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. ACEs can also adversely impact education and job opportunities.

This isn’t to say that experiencing ACEs directly leads to an unhappy and unhealthy life. Hardships in life are unavoidable, so providing your child with the tools and resources they need to bounce back from difficulties is essential in helping them become a healthy, resilient adult.

Related: Your Teen’s Grief: How to Help

What is Parenting Style?

Finally, let’s talk about what we do have control over – parenting style. You can influence your child’s development through the way you establish connection, authority, and discipline as a parent. There is much debate about what’s truly the best way to parent your child, and even the parents of the same child can have a difference of opinion.

While everyone parents differently, clinical psychologists Baumrind, Maccoby, and Martin narrowed it down to four types of parenting styles:

  1. Uninvolved Parenting

Also referred to as neglectful parenting, this is when parents engage in little to no parental responsibility when nurturing their child. While they may provide basic physical necessities, such as food and shelter, those with this parenting style tend to provide little to no support or guidance. They do not respond to the emotional needs of their child, nor do they demand much from their children. Typically, no rules or guidance is established, and little affection and support is given to their children.

While uninvolved parenting can have serious impacts on children, it’s often a sign that the parent themselves is struggling with significant challenges. Many uninvolved parents are suffering from mental health problems or substance abuse. They may be too overwhelmed by their own personal problems to care for their child, leading to a lack of supervision, interaction, and connection.

  1. Permissive Parenting

Also called indulgent parenting, this is when parents are highly responsive to their child’s needs, but do not enforce boundaries or set many expectations for behavior.  Rules established with this parenting style are rarely enforced, and little discipline is given to their children.

Many permissive parents are afraid of being overbearing or too forceful with their children, leading to extreme lenience and a lack of confrontation. Essentially, this is a parenting style where you don’t say no to your kids and focus on nurturing a friendship, rather than parent-child relationship.

  1. Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parents have high demands for their child while providing little affection and support. This parenting style expects strict obedience from the child, and values punishment and discipline over positive reinforcement.

An authoritarian parent believes that their children should do what they’re told without reason and little room for compromise or discussion. They will provide a structured, orderly environment but typically focus on the child’s behavior rather than their child’s psychological and emotional needs.

  1. Authoritative Parenting

An authoritative parent has high, but reasonable, expectations for their child while also providing the warmth, affection, and support their child needs. This parent provides guidance and discipline, enforcing boundaries firmly but lovingly.

This type of parenting establishes rules while allowing their children to openly discuss their concerns and issues. An authoritative parent is nurturing and reasons with their children, allowing them to make mistakes in a constructive way.


Which is the Most Effective Parenting Style?

There has been substantial research on how parenting styles influence adolescents’ emotional well-being and behaviors, with a general consensus among experts that an authoritative parenting style is best for raising children in America.

Children and adolescents raised with uninvolved parenting tend to have the poorest outcomes in all aspects of well-being defined by research. For example, those raised by uninvolved parents were found to have a high association with delinquent acts such as theft and assault, while also having high rates of substance abuse. They also reported higher levels of depressive symptoms and scored lower on self-esteem.

Those raised with permissive parenting also tend to do poorly in terms of well-being. Children of permissive parents have been found to have lower levels of self-esteem and higher rates of substance use. They are also less likely to be positively engaged with academics, with high rates of school misconduct. These children tend to have difficulties with authority figures, as they are able to act out without consequences from their parents.

Authoritarian parenting is linked with negative outcomes as well, but these results vary across cultural contexts. Caucasian households were found to suffer from the most negative effects with this style of parenting, with children having lower self-esteem, high levels of depression, and poorer social skills. Certain minority groups, however, correlated with more neutral or even positive outcomes. This could be because this style of parenting is normalized in some ethnic groups and interpreted as protective or acceptable rather than overbearing.

Authoritative parenting is the most associated with positive adolescent well-being. Those raised with this parenting style were found less likely to abuse substances and had the lowest levels of depression across most parenting style studies. They also have been found to have the highest level of commitment to school, and higher levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction.

No matter what parenting style you prefer, almost all parents can agree that they want their child to be happy and healthy. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health and substance abuse problems, Beachside Teen Treatment Center can help put your child back on track. Our programs promote deep-rooted recovery and healing, with individualized and diverse treatment plans to cater to your teen’s needs. For more information on how we can help support you and your teen, contact a member of our admissions team today.