Lessons in life: It is no surprise that permissive parents raise happy children


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The Independent Online

The pursuit of happiness is a noble one – if not always fun, and certainly not to be confused with wealth and fame. Happiness, however, is apparently to do with parenting. A lifelong study conducted by University College London reveals that those who perceived their parents as more caring and less psychologically controlling during their childhood were likely to be happier and more satisfied throughout their lives.

This is a perhaps surprising result. The conventional image of “permissive” parenting is that the children, sometimes literally, go to pot. The child of the laissez-faire flunk exams and generally fail to work hard enough to succeed in life. But therein lies the answer to that conundrum; the offspring of the “pushy” parents may well excel at school and have the best chances at university – especially if their parents have the sharp elbows well-represented among the middle classes – but such high achievement does not necessarily make anyone smile very much at all.

This rings true. Warmth and responsiveness towards children evidently makes those children feel warm themselves, and more responsive to their own emotional moods. Controlling parents, who attempt to dictate every emotional response to the challenges of growing up, ironically leave their charges less able to cope in later life. Result: unhappiness. 

Is the answer a national movement to rehabilitate the “hippie” parent? Perhaps the Department for Education, itself having suffered a sort of controlling trauma during its time under Michael Gove, could institute parenting classes with special modules devoted to showing how to allow tiny adults to rebel, to “do your own thing”, “let it hang out” and skip school if they like. Many have sought the secret of making Britain a happier place; the answer is it starts in the nursery.