From encouraging schoolwork and sports to modeling values as a child grows (remember, they do as you do, not as you say!) parents exert enormous influence over their children's lives. They are, however, not the only on-the-ground influencers—especially after children enter school and begin interacting with the world at large.
Most parents work to give children the best start possible, but it's also important for parents to recognize that kids come into the world with their own temperaments, personalities, and goals. While parents may want to push their child down a certain path, a parents' job is to provide an interface with the world that ultimately prepares a child for complete independence and the ability to pursue whatever path they choose.
In a rapidly changing world, parenting can be subject to fads and changing styles, and parenting in some privileged circles has become a competitive sport. But the needs of child development as delineated by science remain relatively stable: safety, structure, support, and love.
To parent effectively, it’s not enough to simply avoid the obvious dangers like abuse, neglect, or overindulgence. Indeed, The National Academy of Sciences delineates four major responsibilities for parents: maintaining children's health and safety, promoting their emotional well-being, instilling social skills, and preparing children intellectually.
Numerous studies suggest that the best-adjusted children are reared by parents who find a way to combine warmth and sensitivity with clear behavioral expectations. Parents may find the Four C’s to be a helpful acronym: care (showing acceptance and affection), consistency (maintaining a stable environment), choices (allowing the child to develop autonomy), and consequences (applying repercussions of choices, whether positive or negative).
Not every parenting style is in the child's best interest. There is such a thing as overparenting, which can cripple children as they move into adulthood and render them unable to cope with the merest setbacks.
Two well-known examples of overparenting styles include "helicopter parenting," in which children are excessively monitored and kept out of harm's way, and "snowplow parenting," in which potential obstacles are removed from a child's path. Both can negatively impact a child's later independence, mental health, and self-esteem.
Of course, there is such a thing as too-little parenting, too, and research establishes that lack of parental engagement often leads to poor behavioral outcomes in children. This may be, in part, because it encourages the young to be too reliant on peer culture. Ironically, overly harsh or authoritarian styles of parenting can have the same effect.
Ultimately, parents should strive to be loving but firm, while allowing children enough space to develop their own interests, explore independence, and experience failure.