Keeping mum boosts mental health, teens told

August 9, 2018  10:46

Mummy’s boys may be the butt of jokes and subject to name-calling, but they actually fare better in roughing out the challenges of teenage life than those more detached from their mother’s apron strings.

New research by Marriage Foundation, the think tank set up to promote stable families, reveals that boys who are close to their mothers are less likely to suffer from poor mental health or unpopularity among their peers.

Boys deemed ‘extremely close’ to their mothers at age 14 are 41 per cent less likely to have mental health problems.

Daddy’s girls enjoy a similar lift in their self-esteem and confidence. Girls who are ‘extremely close’ to their fathers are 44 per cent less likely to suffer emotional problems or have trouble with their peers.

But boys and girls display significant differences in how they judge the security of their family life. While boys are happier when their parents are married, girls are more reassured by their parents demonstrating a high-quality relationship.

The analysis, which uses Millennium Cohort Study data from 11,000 mothers, found that overall the biggest factor affecting teenage mental health was family breakdown.

Harry Benson, research director of Marriage Foundation, who co-authored the study with Steve McKay from the University of Lincoln, commented:

“Our analysis shows once again that family breakdown remains the number one driver of teenage mental health problems.

“Our really interesting new finding is that boys and girls are especially influenced by their relationship with the opposite sex parent. Boys who are close to their mum tend to have better mental health, as do girls who are close to their dad.

“The fact that these links only apply to one parent and not both suggests that it’s the closeness with parents that affects the child’s mental health and not the other way around.

“In addition, boys are affected by whether their parents are married and happy whereas girls are more affected by whether their parents have avoided physical force, poor quality relationship, or low income.

“So boys seem to be looking for signs of clarity whereas girls are looking for anything that might make relationships difficult. We think this is the first study to connect how the relationships that children experience at home are setting them up for their own future relationships as adults.

Sir Paul Coleridge, chairman of Marriage Foundation commented: “Teenage mental health problems are rightly near the top of the public concern agenda across the political spectrum. They invariably cast long shadows over the life chances of adolescents well into adulthood and sometimes for life.

“Our earlier research demonstrated that family breakdown are their chief driver and this latest research reinforces it.

“Mummy’s boys” and “daddy’s girls” have been known about for generations as something of a stereotypical joke. But it seems that once again research supports anecdotal experience. Girls and boys, as they develop, do indeed have differing emotional needs and expectations and do best when these needs are satisfied. A strong relationship with the parent of the opposite sex boosts self-esteem and peer group relationship skills both of which support sound mental health.

“Obviously in families that remain together, not only is the trauma of family break-up averted, but also children have a far better chance of maintaining appropriately strong relationship with both parents. And without the huge disadvantage of having to split their time between the two.

“Marriage remains the gold standard of family structure. Of parents who remain together until their child reaches 15 years old, 93 per cent are married. All parents want to do their best for their children but maintaining and nurturing their own stable relationship is, in the end, the best way to do that.”

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