Before we start lots of handwringing about parents and children today, let’s get a grip: If the 20th century American family were displayed in an animated flipbook, the first pages whizzing by would show large families with many children clustered on the margins, evolving to the present with just a few children situated at the center. Children would move from being of great economic value to having great psychological value. Parents would begin to invest greater time, resources and emotions in their children. The relationships between parents and children would become deeper and more complex and would last for many more pages.

As the economy was restructured and the need for higher education grew, the role of parents has become ever more crucial in determining how children fare on the high-stakes road to adulthood. I’ve learned a few things about that process.

The support of parents — emotionally and financially — is the single most important predictor of the success of young adults. Involved parents provide many advantages that are necessary in today’s world.

Relationships between parents and young adults are closer and more connected than ever before. New generations of parents have wanted more, and they got it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are no guidebooks for how these relationships are supposed to go when children are grown — or when parents are middle aged or old. But a warning to men: This positive story is still much more about moms than dads, despite how far we like to think the American father has come.

– Goldilocks parenting is best. If you’re over involved, step back. (You know who you are — or if you don’t, watch for plentiful eye rolling, especially from teachers.) If you’re under involved, step up. The Hard Knocks School of Parenting of a bygone era — 18, you’re out, with no support thereafter — is not an effective strategy today.

Building the self-esteem of children will carry them far. But children also need to know disappointment and failure if they’re to be resilient adults. Psychologists call it “transformational coping.” Of course, some hardships are more consequential than others. Parents must choose when to make the save and when to let a child fall.

– If you want to see just how much involved parenting matters, track the lives of young people who don’t have it. Many serious problems in our nation stem from parents who are absent, neglectful or abusive. In obsessing about helicopter parents, we’re focused on the wrong end of the spectrum.

Involved parenting is especially important for boys and for fathers. Many of the crises of child development concern boys, and many of the crises of parenthood concern men. Both benefit from involved fathering.

– There is extraordinary inequality in the capacities and resources of American parents. These things determine what parents can do with or for their children. Unequal childhoods become unequal adulthoods.

As for the future, parenting will probably continue to be the arm’s race it is — at least in the middle class, and at least until the game of getting ahead in our society eases up. In the meantime, you’ll find my heart heavy for kids with parents who care too little rather than those who care too much.

Richard A. Settersten Jr., a professor of social and behavioral health sciences at Oregon State University, is the co-author (with Barbara Ray) of “Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It’s Good for Everyone.”

Source: New York Times –