At some point, every parent wants to be the cool parent. The one who breaks the rules! The one who can "hang"! The one who's more like a friend!
Plenty of parents have tried this and failed — and some have probably even succeeded a bit.
But for some children, granting them their autonomy could increase the child's anxiety and depression:
The study, published this week in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, found that kids who lack self-control feel more anxious if their moms favor a laissez-faire style of parenting. On the other hand, kids who have greater self-control, but whose mothers didn't allow them much autonomy, tended to be more anxious and depressed.
The study examined kids in grades three through five over the span of three years, monitoring their depression and anxiety levels via a series of "standard questionnaires."
In particular, the researchers wanted to see how warm or hostile the moms were and how much they allowed their kids to guide the conversation, which relates to how much autonomy, or independence, they give their kids.
As for the kids, the researchers watched to see how well they could control their own emotions and actions.
Their study has limitations, the authors acknowledge. For one, dads' participation wasn't required, and many of the moms were single parents. The researchers collected information about fathers in only 40 percent of the families, too few to compare with the mothers. For another, the scientists didn't examine whether kids whose temperament appeared to fit well with their mom's parenting style were more successful in the classroom or on the playground.
Even if there were hard and fast rules, it still may be difficult to gauge what "type" of child you have. Personally, my mother's perception of who I was as a child was completely off base, but parents don't always understand the reasons for their child's behavior —especially if their kids are very different from themselves.
But fear not. There may also be a cheat sheet:
You might want to step back and take a hard look at your children, Lengua suggests. "Can they stop themselves from doing things on an impulse? Can they power through things they don't want to do?" And do they refrain from saying the first thing that comes to mind when they're upset?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then your child might do better with more hands-off parenting. But if your child falls closer to the other end of the behavioral spectrum, don't be afraid to wield your authority.
"It's not that the parent is totally responsible for depression and anxiety," Lengua says. "The good news for parents is there are things they can do to help reduce those symptoms."
The earlier you start, though, the better, she says. "Trying to control your kids starting when they're 14 is much harder than getting a handle on it when they're 4, 5, 6 or even earlier."
"The main take-home message," Lengua says, is that "it's not one size fits all. The same parenting might not work with each child."