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New Study Shows Parents Misjudge Children’s Happiness

A new study shows that parents of 10- and 11-year-olds consistently overestimate their child’s happiness, while those with 15- and 16-year-olds are inclined to underestimate their teen’s unhappiness.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth in England attribute the discrepancies to an “egocentric bias” through which parents rely too heavily on their own feelings in assessing the happiness of the family as a whole.

Children’s and adolescents’ happiness has gained considerable attention in recent research, however the potential problems of relying on parental reports to assess children’s happiness have been overlooked, according to the researchers.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, the latest study could provide valuable information, not only for advancing knowledge about well-being, but also for improving parent-child relationships and paving the way for carrying out improved interventions, the researchers noted.

For the study, Dr. Belén López-Pérez, a postdoctoral research fellow in developmental and social psychology, and Ellie Wilson, a recent graduate of the BSc (Hons) Psychology course, questioned 357 children and adolescents from two different schools in Spain, along with their parents. Happiness was assessed using a range of self-reporting measures and ratings.

The results showed that parents were inclined to score a child or adolescents’ happiness closely in line with their own emotional feelings while, in fact, there were notable differences in the child’s reports, according to the researchers.

While children and adolescents reported very similar levels of happiness, parents reported different levels depending on the age of their child, the researchers said. While the study found the discrepancies between the parents and children, it also found a drop in the level of happiness in parents of adolescents, they noted.

“Studying informants’ discrepancies and the relationship between parents’ and children’s self-reports on happiness is vital to determine whether parental report is valid,” Lopez- Perez said. “Being unable to read children’s happiness appropriately may increase misunderstanding between parents and children/adolescents, which has been shown to have negative consequences for parent-child relationships. Furthermore, parents might not be able to provide the appropriate emotional support or attend to their children’s needs accurately.”

Source: University of Plymouth

Child with hands clasped over ears photo by shutterstock.

New Study Shows Parents Misjudge Children’s Happiness

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). New Study Shows Parents Misjudge Children’s Happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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