What Parents Don’t Know Could Hurt Their Children

You need to pass a test to drive a car. You must obtain a license to engage in many professional activities and occupations. You must fill out what seems like reams of paperwork just to get your mail delivered to a new address. But, want to have a child? No problem. No test, no license. No experience necessary. Still, parents are undoubtedly the most significant influences in a child’s life. A new study evaluated parents’ knowledge of child development and effective parenting and concluded that the more parents know, the better off their children are.

Researchers assembled a sample of 62 parents of children aged 2-3 years. They assessed the parents’ knowledge of child development processes and milestones, as well as effective parenting strategies. The parents also self-reported parenting dysfunction, nurturing, confidence, affective states, and child behavior. In-home observations assessed parent-child interactions and negative or problematic child behavior.

Not all that surprising, the authors of the study concluded that the more parents understood effective parenting strategies, the less dysfunction, anxiety, and problem behavior they reported. Similarly, a higher level of parenting knowledge was associated with observed positive parenting competence. Limiting the general applicability of the results is the fact that the parents in the study were mostly white, with a middle-to-high socioeconomic status.

The American Psychological Association, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the Institute of Medicine have all recommended implementing training programs to teach evidence-based parenting in order to reduce the prevalence of child maltreatment, inadequate parenting, and behavioral and emotional problems in children. But, while “evidence-based” is common medical vernacular, most parents would shy away from turning child-rearing into an outcomes-based science experiment. (And, it would ruin the American learn-as-you-go parenting style!)

Still, public health interventions focusing on high-risk parent groups have shown promising results in reducing adverse childhood outcomes. But, is it even possible to teach entire populations to follow evidence-based parenting strategies?  Programs that are effective and appropriate will offer education and support to parents, but each group of parents – whether divided by age, socioeconomic status, or even geography – needs different information and support, and universal programs would likely leave parents who need the most help unserved.

Good parents need knowledge and confidence, and a few special talents, to raise healthy, happy, and well-functioning children. Just when to start building these skills and who should teach the skills, though, are larger questions.


Arria AM, Mericle AA, Rallo D, Moe J, White WL, Winters KC, & O?connor G (2012). Integration of Parenting Skills Education and Interventions in Addiction Treatment. Journal of addiction medicine PMID: 23079483

Maguire ER (2012). Exploring Family Risk and Protective Factors for Adolescent Problem Behaviors in the Caribbean. Maternal and child health journal PMID: 23054459

Bjørknes R, & Manger T (2012). Can Parent Training Alter Parent Practice and Reduce Conduct Problems in Ethnic Minority Children? A Randomized Controlled Trial. Prevention science : the official journal of the Society for Prevention Research PMID: 23135877

Morawska A, Winter L, & Sanders MR (2009). Parenting knowledge and its role in the prediction of dysfunctional parenting and disruptive child behaviour. Child: care, health and development, 35 (2), 217-26 PMID: 19134009

Winter L, Morawska A, & Sanders M (2012). The Knowledge of Effective Parenting Scale (KEPS): a tool for public health approaches to universal parenting programs. The journal of primary prevention, 33 (2-3), 85-97 PMID: 22528199

Image via hartphotography / Shutterstock.

  • ChristianKl

    Even if the knowledge wouldn’t help the parents make better decisions, I would expect that correlation to exist.

    Parents who put more energy into caring for their children are also likely to gather more knowledge about raising childs.

    Before you can speak of evidence-based parenting you would need to test in controlled studies whether those parenting stategies work.

    Observational studies like the one cited, just don’t provide strong evidence.

  • Richard Kensinger, MSW

    We already know the impact of the 5 parenting styles on psychosocial development during the 1st 5 years of life & beyond. I also discuss the impact of the overall psychosocial climate in the home. A colleague & I identify the enriched, functional, sterile, dysfunctional & toxic PSC. A few of my articles in Brain Blogger discuss some of our findings further. And we discuss the impact on attachment sub-styles.


    • Anonymous

      I agree about what you said, I’m having to face taking two of my grandsons away from my daughter because of severe abuse by her and the stepfather( who is jealous of them both). The abuse started bad in 2006 and has gotten to a point that if I don’t take these two, I’ll be going to a funeral soon. This guy she married had a criminal record when she got involved with him. And now she also is very abusive to them because they both have Bipolar Disorder and very severe, so I’m going to the judge to take them away from her and order them to get help and the boys will be getting counseling too. My daughter was born nearly 7 weeks too soon and wasn’t breathing at all at birth, she had Respiratory Distress Syndrome and Respiratory Failure both and at 15 she was diagnosed with Manic Depressive Disorder( Bipolar Disorder). I had no idea she was so sick, and now I have witnessed some horrible abuse. alicehenderson58@gmail.com

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.

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