A new study from Singapore has found that pushy parenting can increase the levels of self-criticism and even lead to depression and anxiety in their children.
The study from Singapore
The study was conducted over five years by the National University of Singapore (NUS), and published in the Journal of Personality. Pushy parenting is a well-known phenomenon in certain Asian countries, especially Singapore, Hong Kong and China. With high population densities, and pressure on schooling, the ‘Tiger Mom’ has become famous for endlessly pushing kids to do more, do better and to never to make mistakes.
Children of primary school age were studied over the five-year period, they were all seven years old at the beginning and twelve at the end. It was found that those with more intrusive parents, as defined by those continually pushing for higher grades and performance, and negative reactions to mistakes, were more prone to becoming highly self-critical. They were also more likely to develop depressive tendencies and suffer from greater anxiety.
263 children participated in the study. They were asked to complete various puzzles and tasks within a predetermined time limit, with help from a parent (the one who was more involved in the day-to-day care of the child). The parent was told that they were free to help their child in any way they felt necessary, and their behavior was noted and rated. The goal was to determine how interfering the parent was (known as ‘parental intrusiveness’), and how that affected the child.
If the parent became overly intrusive, or used ‘helicopter’ parenting (a close cosseting of the child, paying extremely close attention to everything), they were more likely to interfere or even take over the puzzle. This was carried out at various points over the five years and the effects on the child were monitored.
Consequences of pushy parenting
The lead author of the study was Ryan Hong, assistant professor in the department of psychology at NUS. He stated, “when parents become intrusive in their children’s lives, it may signal to the children that what they do is never good enough.” He continued, “as a result, the child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being ‘perfect.’”
Followed by his worrying conclusion, “over time, such behavior, known as maladaptive perfectionism, may be detrimental to the child’s well-being as it increases the risk of the child developing symptoms of anxiety and even suicide in very serious cases,”
About 60 percent of those with pushy parents developed much greater self-critical tendencies. And an even more worrying 78 percent had started to display alarming levels of perfectionism in everything they did. A lot of the participants developed these characteristics around the same in the study too.
A different way
Hong said, “our findings indicate that in a society that emphasizes academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children. Children should be given a conducive environment to learn, and part of learning always involves making mistakes and learning from them. When parents become intrusive, they may take away this conducive learning environment.”
There is an interesting and illuminating ‘TED Talk’ by Ken Robinson about education. In the talk he argues that making mistakes is central to learning and creativity. If you cannot ever make a mistake, you will never feel free to experiment, try things, or look to do things differently. Singapore take note.