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23 August 2012
Parenting is an incredibly conscious activity these days. Each step along the parenting path is contemplated, examined, discussed, referenced, and re-examined. No wonder many parents end up spending many thousands of dollars on their children’s education as they attempt to do the best they possibly can for their child. A new study though has confirmed that one of the best things you can do for your kids is relatively inexpensive and accessible to all; you can encourage them to be socially engaged.
In the end surely what most people want for their children is happiness and according to this research from Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Institute the best predictor of future happiness is not academic achievement but social connection as a child.
The researchers analysed data for 804 people followed up over a period of 32 years from childhood into adulthood. They measured the relationship between level of family disadvantage in childhood, social connectedness in childhood, language development in childhood, social connectedness in adolescence, academic achievement in adolescence and the relationship of all of these to wellbeing in adulthood. Wellbeing was defined as a sense of coherence, positive coping strategies, social engagement and self-perceived strengths: happiness by any other name.
Social connectedness in children was defined by parent and teacher ratings of the child being liked, not being alone, and the child’s level of confidence. In adolescence social connectedness was measured by social attachments (parents, peers, school, confidant) and participation in youth groups and sporting clubs.
The analysis showed a strong progression from child and adolescent social connectedness to adult wellbeing.
By contrast the link between early language development, through adolescent academic achievement, to adult wellbeing was weak.
This fits with other research that shows that socioeconomic prosperity does not correlate with happiness. In other words, academic success and the status that flows from it will not make you happy, but connection to a wider group of friends and being part of something bigger than yourself will make you happy.
The researchers say that this proves the enduring significance of positive social relationships over the lifespan to adulthood. Or as Bette Midler warbled, “you got to have friends”.