When it comes to folk wisdom on how to raise happy and successful kids, we all do the same thing. We look at the families around us and try to identify what's working and what's not. Then we attempt to copy the good and avoid the bad.

That family with the perpetually whiny toddler and no official bedtime? They could be your inspiration for early nights for your own little ones. The cousin who calls mommy for even the most minor crisis? He might scare you off helicopter parenting for good.

But of course anecdotes aren't as reliable as science, and it's easy to miss confounding variables or behind-closed-door complications when observing those around for you child rearing inspiration. That's why a new study out of Japan is so fascinating. It does essentially the same thing parents have been doing since time immemorial--checking out how other people's kids turn out--only with the rigor of formal study design and a far larger sample size.

The team of professors conducted an online survey of 5,000 Japanese women and men about their childhood relationship with their parents, asking them to agree or disagree with statements like "My parents trusted me" and "I felt like my family had no interest in me." Using the results, they outlined six distinct parenting styles:

  • Supportive: High or average levels of independence, high levels of trust, high levels of interest shown in child, large amount of time spent together
  • Strict: Low levels of independence, medium-to-high levels of trust, strict or fairly strict, medium-to-high levels of interest shown in child, many rules
  • Indulgent: High or average levels of trust, not strict at all, time spent together is average or longer than average
  • Easygoing: Low levels of interest shown in child, not strict at all, small amount of time spent together, few rules
  • Harsh: Low levels of interest shown in child, low levels of independence, low levels of trust, strict
  • Average: Average levels for all key factors

Which of these styles was correlated with the most happy and successful adults? "The results demonstrated that people who had experienced 'supportive' child-rearing, where parents paid them a lot of positive attention, reported high salaries, academic success, and high levels of happiness," notes the study release.

In essence, spending a lot of time with your kids while also trusting them to make choices for themselves (rather than ruling every aspect of their lives with rules) seems to be the magic formula for well-adjusted offspring. But in the unlikely case that your only concern is your kids' worldly success, not their happiness, then feel free to be as strict as your like.

"Parents who combine a strict upbringing with positive attention tend to produce children who are less happy. These children were, however, just as academically and financially successful," notes PsyBlog of the findings.

Of course, there are several reasons to take these results with a grain of salt, most obviously that the research was conducted in Japan. What works in that cultural context might not work the same in yours. Plus, this is only one study and certainly not a strong enough basis to serve as the foundation for your entire parenting philosophy.

Other sources of information, informal observations, trial and error, and your personal values and beliefs will no doubt continue to deeply inform your choices about how to raise your kids. But new and intriguing scientific evidence is always worth weighing, too. And these latest findings are pretty clear in their prescription for parents: Love + freedom = success.

Published on: Jun 30, 2016