An Institute for Family Studies-Gallup report found that "political ideology is one of the strongest predictors" of which caregiving styles a parent adopts, and conservative parents are associated with the best mental health outcomes for their children.
"Conservative and very conservative parents are the most likely to adopt the parenting practices associated with adolescent mental health," study author Jonathan Rothwell, who is also the principal economist at Gallup and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote . "Liberal parents score the lowest, even worse than very liberal parents, largely because they are the least likely to successfully discipline their children."
Conservative parents have several key distinctions in their relationships with their children that inform mental health outcomes, Rothwell explained, including being able to "effectively discipline their children, while also displaying affection and responding to their needs." The right-leaning parents also have better quality relationships with their children, "characterized by fewer arguments, more warmth, and a stronger bond."
Political ideology is just one predictive factor in the overarching conclusion of the study , which is that having high-quality relationships between children and their parents is the most important factor in achieving positive mental health outcomes.
The study comes as adolescent mental health has plummeted over the course of the last decade, a free fall marked by increased suicide, depression, and anxiety, among other problems.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have offered recommendations like better funding for psychiatric services, the study notes the CDC's solutions "almost completely ignore the most important known determinant of youth mental health: parent-child relationships."
The best mental health results come from "warm, responsive, and rule-bound, disciplined parenting," Rothwell said. This style is otherwise known as "authoritative."
Negative parenting styles include "authoritarian," which is characterized by being "cold or harsh," and the "permissive" style, which lacks proper discipline.
Socioeconomic status did not appear to dictate results, which "may be shocking to many highly educated Americans who were taught to believe that socioeconomic status dictates everything good in life," the economist continued, adding, "Income doesn't buy better parenting, and more highly educated parents do not score better, either."
The style of parenting and the quality of the relationship between parent and child also shaped outcomes among families of different races and ethnicities in the United States, with no significant differences between demographic groups.
Mental health predictors other than political ideology also included views on marriage; those who believe marriage is not an outdated institution and think it improves relationship quality through commitment had more positive parenting styles. That worldview translated to spouses, where those reporting better relationships with their partners were more likely to have effective parenting practices.
"No effort is being made by leading public health organizations to inform parents about what works to prevent depression, anxiety, or behavioral problems in teens," Rothwell said. "When it comes to teen mental health, the implication is that medical experts are the only people who can prevent illness or help if it arises — often with prescription drugs."
"Parents are disempowered and sidelined, and yet social science continues to show that their actions, judgments, and relationships are the key to their teen's mental health," he concluded.
The study was conducted by surveying 6,643 parents, 2,956 of whom lived with an adolescent, as well as 1,580 of the adolescents. The groups were asked about mental health and doctor visits, as well as parenting styles, relationship quality, personality traits, and views on the institution of marriage. They were also asked about social media use.
Breccan F. Thies is an investigative reporter for the Washington Examiner. He previously covered education and culture issues at Breitbart News. A Virginia native, Thies graduated from the University of Virginia in 2019, where he earned a degree in foreign affairs and minored in history. You can follow him on X: @BreccanFThies.