They say you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child, but new research from the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom suggests parents might not have an accurate read on how happy—or unhappy—their children really are.
In the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 357 children, adolescents, and parents from two separate schools in Spain used self-reporting tools to answer questions about their happiness.
The results showed that parents seem to have what researchers dub an “egocentric bias,” or the tendency to use their own feelings to gauge how the whole family feels. Mothers and fathers that participated in the study thought their young children (ages 10 and 11) were happier than the kids reported being. On the flip side, adolescents (ages 15 and 16) reported feeling happier than their parents thought.
"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,” Dr. Belén López-Pérez, study author and postdoctoral research fellow in developmental and social psychology at Plymouth University, said in a statement. “Furthermore, parents might not be able to provide the appropriate emotional support or attend to their children's needs accurately."