As children and teens head into summer break, how can parents nurture their mental health?

Parenting researcher Matthew Mulvaney, associate professor at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, has recommendations.

In both his teaching and his research, he seeks to understand the principles by which parents and families support optimal child development.

Here, he answers questions about suicide risk, social media, spanking, and related topics:

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month. This article mentions how parenting style can significantly influence a child’s mental health. What would you encourage parents to think about when they read articles like these?

Certainly, parental hostility is an important determinant of child mental health and that has been shown in the strongest longitudinal research designs available to us. I think that the challenge of communicating that harm is that many of the parenting behaviors described here are still very normative parental behaviors and as such parents don’t consider the potential harm to their kids.

In particular, the physical discipline that is described in this article is one of the most relevant components—many parents were spanked growing up and do not think that it has any negative impact on kids. Indeed, many parents view it favorably. It is safe to say though that this type of hostile parenting can have long-lasting impacts. Parents should note that the research is clear—hostility, even culturally sanctioned hostility, impacts kids and leads to a host of negative mental health outcomes. Probably a key mechanism is in its impact on the parent-child relationship, which has cascading effects in both being a direct impact on child well-being but also reducing the ability of parents to serve as resource or support to help manage other stressors that might impact mental health.

I think the more that parents can be mindful of their actions and put themselves in the shoes of their kids in order to think about how their kids might be receiving the parenting behaviors is the best thing they can do to try to minimize the hostility in their encounters. Try to remember what it felt like to be hit or yelled at when they were kids. One additional key point is that hostility is that it doesn’t even need to be as overt as the behaviors described here to be damaging—an eyeroll or a scowl at the wrong time can also really impact children.

Read the full article about teen mental health by Vanessa Marquette at Futurity.