A recent social science study adds a new wrinkle to what we know about the importance of providing structure for kids. This analysis suggests that people who faced high levels of uncertainty or trauma as children had a higher level of health problems as young adults. However, children whose parents, particularly mothers, paid attention to where their kids were and what they were doing showed much better health in adulthood.
Researchers looked at information gathered in a nationwide study of more than 4,800 children that followed them for 23 years. In this analysis, the researchers compared childhood trauma to their later health as adults, and then compared their parents' limit-setting habits to those same health results. The results showed a higher correlation between childhood environmental risk and physical health problems at age 29. The study also found, however, that "parental vigilance (e.g., parental knowledge and solicitation of adolescents’ whereabouts as well as limit-setting)" correlated to better adult health.
One of the researchers noted that vigilant parenting is not the same as helicopter parenting or overly controlling parents. Dr. Katherine Ehrlich said, "Communicating love and the desire to be part of your child's life, I think, is probably part of the magic ingredient of vigilant parenting that benefits the child. It's all about how kids are experiencing that vigilant parenting and how they're interpreting it. They don't feel like it's helicopter parenting. They just feel like their mom or dad really cares about them."
The lesson here is that our kids need to know that we care enough to ask where they are headed and what they are doing. They may complain that we are prying, and they may balk at limits, but they need us to set those limits anyway. Of course, we need to stop shy of too much control that stifles appropriate independence. This side of that boundary, however, our kids need to hear us say that we care enough about them to ask questions and enforce limits.