Universal Ingredients to Parenting Teens: Parental Warmth and Autonomy Support Promote Adolescent Well-being in Most Families


Anne Bülow, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Andreas B. Neubauer, DIPF | Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education, Germany
Bart Soenens, Ghent University, Belgium
Savannah Boele, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Jaap J. A. Denissen, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Loes Keijsers, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands


Even though each adolescent is unique, some ingredients for development may still be universal. According to Self-Determination Theory, certain behaviors of parents are need-supportive and thus universally beneficial for children’s and adolescents’ well-being and development. Specifically, parental warmth (which makes adolescents feel loved and cared for) and parental autonomy support (which allows adolescents to feel they can take initiative and be authentic) should satisfy each adolescent’s basic psychological needs, and therefore contribute to every adolescents’ well-being, although the strength of these effects may differ between adolescents.

To date, most research testing the universality of associations between need-supportive parenting and adolescents’ well-being has compared cross-sectional associations across different cultures and across different personality traits. However, an absence of differences between groups in an average effect does not imply that (within groups) each adolescent is affected positively (one size fits all fallacy). This study assesses, for the first time, in how many families these assumed universal benefits of need-supporting parenting apply.


To rigorously test this idea that each family has similar mechanisms, we followed 159 Dutch parent-adolescent dyads (parent: Mage = 45.34, 79% mothers; adolescent: Mage = 13.31, 62% female) for more than three months, and collected 100 consecutive daily reports of parental warmth, autonomy support, positive and negative affect. This allowed us to estimate, for each participating family, their unique (i.e., idiographic) association between need-supportive parenting and adolescents’ affective well-being.


Positive effects of parental warmth and autonomy support upon well-being were found in 91-98% of the families. Preregistered analysis of 14,546 daily reports confirmed that effects of parenting differed in strength (i.e., some adolescents benefited more than others), but were universal in their direction (i.e., in fewer than 1% of families effects were in an unexpected direction). Albeit stronger with child-reported parenting, similar patterns were found with parent-reports. Adolescents who benefited most from need-supportive parenting in daily life were characterized by higher overall sensitivity to environmental influences.


Whereas recent work suggests that each child and each family have unique developmental mechanisms, this study suggests that need-supportive parenting promotes adolescent well-being in most families. This study, as such provides robust evidence for the universalism without uniformity principle: Parental warmth and autonomy support might benefit adolescents’ daily well-being in (almost) all families – and may as such be one of the universal ingredients for parenting teens.

Contact: bulow@essb.eur.nl

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