Children with overprotective parents tend to live shorter lives, a recent study has discovered.
The longitudinal study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, analyzed data from nearly 1,000 individuals — 496 men and 445 women — who were born in the 1950s and ’60s and died between 2007 and 2018.
Researchers at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) in Brazil and University College London (UCL) in the U.K. conducted the study. They analyzed the participants’ responses to questions on family structure, housing, diseases and relationships with parents in their childhood and adolescent years, among other life aspects.
The study revealed that those with overprotective fathers and little autonomy during childhood had an increased risk of dying before the age of 80.
This risk is 12% for men and 22% for women.
However, women who were well cared for by their mothers during childhood saw the risk reduced by 14%. This may be linked to lower stress levels in their youth, which then carried on to adulthood, the researchers noted.
A glaring statistic shows that men who lived with only one parent during childhood had a much higher risk — a whopping 179% — of dying before their 80th birthday. Interestingly, the study’s results suggest that “only maternal care mattered” and “paternal relationships were not considered crucial.”
The study is the first ever to investigate how the absence of a parent or deficient relationships can negatively impact longevity.
Co-author Aline Fernanda de Souza Canelada recommends a balance in parenting styles:
The middle way is best, avoiding both intrusiveness, which stops children from being autonomous, as well [as] negligence or emotional distance. What we call care in the article is a matter of not neglecting but being present and taking care without overprotecting.
Research shows that a child’s fear of their parents can lead to various health problems. These include increased risks for alcohol abuse, drug abuse and mental health difficulties, which all correlate closely with reduced longevity, Canelada said.
Co-author Tiago Silva Alexandre said their research highlights the importance of caring and loving relationships with one’s parents in childhood. Public policy, he added, should support this.
The most interesting thing about our study is that we were able to show in numbers what has been discussed about parenting for many years. Caring and loving relationships with your father and mother during childhood have repercussions for the rest of your life. In particular, our findings show how they affect longevity. Public policy should support better conditions during childhood in order for people to enjoy old age.
The researchers said they analyzed premature mortality independently from ill health and age. With the study’s focus on people born after World War II, they believe it is impossible to conclusively state that the experiences of more recent generations are different.
“Cultural and social factors may have had a more significant effect than they do now. Having separated parents was seen differently in the past and could be particularly difficult for male children,” Alexandre said.
The study, titled “Gender differences in the association between adverse events in childhood or adolescence and the risk of premature mortality,” can be fully accessed here.