RR1.1: Adolescent Well-Being Is Strongly Related to the Quality of the Parent-Child Relationship
In 2002, Child Trends looked at 1,100 research articles to identify what promotes positive adolescent development. They found that the parent-child relationship is strongly related to adolescent well-being. Here were their four key factors:
- Relationships – Teens who have warm, involved, and satisfying relationships with their parents are more likely to do well in school, be academically motivated and engaged, have better social skills, and have lower rates of risky behaviour than their peers.
- Modelling – Teens whose parents demonstrate positive behaviour on a number of fronts are more likely to engage in those behaviours themselves.
- Monitoring / Awareness – Parents who know about their children’s activities, friends, and behaviour and monitor them in age-appropriate ways have teens with lower rates of risky physical and sexual behaviour.
- Approach to Parenting – Teens whose parents are supportive and caring, but who also consistently monitor and enforce family rules are more likely to be motivated and successful at school, as well as psychologically and physically healthy. In contrast, adolescents whose parents are overly strict and do not give them any independence are more likely to engage in risky behaviour. Similarly when parents are warm but permissive, adolescents tend to be impulsive and engage in more risky behaviour.[i]
RR 1.2: Unhealthy Parenting Promotes Mental Illness
A group of researchers looked at 593 families and their children from two counties in the state of New York in 1975, 1983, 1985 to 1986, and 1991 to 1993, made up of parents with and without mental illness. Their aim was to examine the association between parents’ mental health, unhealthy parenting behaviour, and off-spring mental health. One of their findings was that the children who developed mental illness (depression, anxiety disorder, substance abuse, personality disorder, ADHD, panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, antisocial personality disorder and PTSD) did so primarily because of unhealthy parenting, not because of their parents’ mental illness. Thus, the higher the level of unhealthy parenting, the higher the frequency of mental illness in their children.[ii] Most parents would probably assume that mental illness passes down genetically, but that is not always the case. Dr. Charles Whitfield highlighted this and many similar studies, done primarily since the 1980s, asserting that the devastation of unhealthy parenting has only surfaced by way of empirical evidence as time moves on.[iii]
[i] Moore, K. A., & Zaff, J. F. (2002, November). Building a better teenager: A summary of “what works” in adolescent development, research brief. Child Trends, 1–5.
[ii] Johnson, J. G., Cohen, P., Kasen, S., Smailes, E., & Brook, J. S. (2001). The association of maladaptive parental behavior with psychiatric disorder among parents and their offspring. Archives of General Psychiatry, 58, 453–460.
[iii] Whitfield, C. L. (2004). The truth about mental illness: Choices for healing. FL: Health Communications, Inc. 4–7, 253; Whitfield, C. L. (2001). Not crazy: You may not be mentally ill. Pennington: Muse House Press.
RR2.1: Marital Conflict and Children
Cummings and Davies have found that marital conflicts affect on children is not based on a one-time argument, but rather over a period of time. They wrote:
…However, the risk factor operates over time and insidiously, by altering family and child functioning over time.[i]
Arguments that are repaired satisfactorily and amicably with both parents being happy with the outcome actually have a positive impact on the children because it models for them how conflicts should be resolved. These are called constructive conflicts. However, the types of arguments that will have a much more negative impact on the children are those that are left unresolved over long periods of time, repeated heated and aggressive type of conflicts, and conflicts where one parent is being subjugated by the other. These are called destructive conflicts.
Unfortunately, sometimes we are not the best judge of whether our conflicts with our spouse are constructive or destructive. Often we lack the awareness to know how we come across to our children. As parents we tend to underestimate the effect of our conflicts with our spouse. Cummings and Davies’ research found that the children’s evaluation and response to a conflict is the best way to determine whether a conflict is constructive or destructive. Children’s responses include their emotional reactions as well as their coping mechanisms. So if a conflict is producing more positive responses than negative responses, then it is fair to classify it as constructive. If it is producing more negative responses than positive responses, then it would fall in the category of a destructive conflict. Based on this research, the following kinds of conflict have been found to be destructive.[ii]
- Physical aggression, involving swearing, insulting, throwing or smashing, or threatening to hit.
- Verbal hostility, which includes yelling as well as verbal threats.
- Non-verbal hostility, which includes withdrawal by husbands and/or wives, i.e., giving each other the silent treatment. This has been reported to have a negative effect on children’s behaviour and state of mind, including causing distress. One study showed that the children’s reactions to verbal conflict were similar to their reactions to non-verbal conflict. In fact, parents’ non-verbal reactions of fear caused more distress in the children than heated arguments.[iii]
One study showed that if apologies were accompanied by negative emotions, then it had a negative effect on the children.[iv] Another study found that children’s feelings of distress diminished when conflicts were resolved at an emotional level.[v] Another finding notes that conflicts which were not resolved but which were portrayed by parents to have been okay were found to have not been so beneficial to the children.[vi] Lastly, insecurity in children was caused equally by both a father and mother’s behaviour during conflict.[vii]
RR2.2: Affects of Marriage on a Child’s Well-Being
Marital conflicts diminish children’s school performances by undermining their capacity to sustain attention.31 When marital conflict increased, children’s emotional insecurity about inter-parental relations also increased and children’s sleep was disrupted.[viii] Sleep problems were related to children’s behavioural, emotional and academic problems.[ix]Marital conflicts also caused disruptions in the children’s peer relationships, physical ailments, internalizing problems (such as kids becoming anxious, depressed, introverted and withdrawn) and externalizing problems (such as kids acting out, delinquency).[x]
Children show responses to parental anger as early as 6 months old.[xi] Gottman says that the stress of living with parental conflict can affect the development of an infant’s autonomic nervous system, which, in turn, has an impact on the child’s ability to cope. While it is true that babies do not know the content of the parents’ arguments, they are able to sense that something is wrong.[xii]
Hetherington describes the first two years following a divorce as a time of serious disruptions to parent-child relationships. Divorce and conflicts leading up to a divorce can cause parents to be depressed, distracted and exhausted, which can prevent them from being effective disciplinarians.[xiii] Difficulty controlling and monitoring children’s behaviour is the most sustained parenting problem faced by divorced mothers.
Please refer to the introduction of our marriage book, I Choose Us, for more information about the effects of marriage on parenting.[xiv]
[i] Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (2010). Marital conflict and children: An emotional security perspective. New York: The Guilford Press. 28.
[ii] Ibid., 64–65.
[iii] Ibid., 65–66.
[iv] McCoy, K., Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (2009). Constructive and destructive marital conflict, emotional security and children’s prosocial behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(3), 270–279.
[v] Goeke-Morey, M. C., Cummings, E. M., & Papp, L. M. (2007). Children and marital conflict resolution: Implications for emotional security and adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(4), 74–753; Grych, J. H., & Fincham, F. D. (1990). Marital conflict and children’s adjustment: A cognitive-contextual framework. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 267–290; Cummings, E. M., Ballard, M., & El-Sheikh, M. (1991). Responses of children and adolescents to interadult anger as a function of gender, age, and mode of expression.Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 37, 543–560.
[vi] Cummings, E. M., & Wilson, A. G. (1999). Contexts of marital conflict and children’s emotional security: Exploring the distinction between constructive and destructive conflict from the children’s perspective. In M. Cox, & J. Brooks-Gunn (Eds.), Formation, functioning, and stability of families (pp. 105–129). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; Winter, M. A., Davies, P. T., Hightower, A. D., & Meyer, S. (2006). Relations among family adversity, caregiver communications, and children’s family representations. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 348–351.
[vii] El-Sheikh, M., Cummings, E. M., Kouros, C. D., Elmore-Staton, L., & Buckhalt, J. A. (2008). Marital psychology and physical aggression and children’s mental and physical health: Direct, meditated, and moderated effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 138–148.
[viii] Cummings & Davies (2010), Marital conflict and children, 89.
[ix] El-Sheikh, M., Buckhalt, J. A., Mize, J., & Acebo, C. (2006). Marital conflict and disruption of children’s sleep. Child Development, 77(1), 31-43.
[x] Cummings & Davies (2010), Marital conflict and children, 157.
[xi] Ibid., 180.
[xii] Gottman, J., & Declaire, J. (1998). Raising an emotionally intelligent child—The heart of parenting. New York: Simon & Schuster. 142.
[xiii] Hetherington, E. M. (1992). Coping with marital transitions: A family systems perspective. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 57(2-3), 1-14; Gottman & Declaire (1998), Raising an emotionally intelligent child, 141.
[xiv] Louis, J. P., & Louis, K. M. (2010). I choose us: A Christian perspective on building love connection in your marriage by breaking harmful cycles. Singapore: Louis Counselling & Training Services.
RR4.1: Traumatic Experiences during Childhood Cause Lifetraps
Our own research, consistent with the findings of others, has found that frustrative and traumatic experiences during childhood are associated with the development of lifetraps.[i]In turn, lifetraps are related to the development of other dysfunctions, such as a tendency to: be victimized or aggressive;[ii] have depression and anxiety;[iii] have an increase in body mass index;[iv] be involved in conflict;[v] and be affected by adulthood attachment issues.[vi]
[i] Hartt, J., & Waller, G. (2002). Child abuse, dissociation, and core beliefs in bulimic disorders. Child Abuse and Neglect, 26, 923-938.
[ii] Crawford, E., & O’Dougherty Wright, M. (2007). The impact of childhood psychological maltreatment on interpersonal schemas and subsequent experiences of relationship aggression. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 7, 93-116.
[iii] Cukor, D., & McGinn, L. K. (2006). History of child abuse and severity of adult depression: the mediating role of cognitive schema. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 15, 19-34; Harris, A. E., & Curtin, L. (2002). Parental perceptions, early maladaptive schemas, and depressive symptoms in young adults. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 26, 405-416; Shah, R., & Waller, G. (2000). Parental style and vulnerability to depression: The role of core beliefs. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 188, 19-25; Wright, M. O., Crawford, E., & Del Castillo, D. (2009). Childhood emotional maltreatment and later psychological distress among college students: the predicting role of maladaptive schemas. Child Abuse and Neglect, 33, 59-68.
[iv] van Hanswijck de Jonge, P., Waller, G., Fiennes, A., Rashid, Z., & Lacey, J. H. (2003).Reported sexual abuse and cognitive content in the morbidly obese. Eating Behaviors, 4,315-322.
[v] Messman-Moore, T. L., & Coates, A. A. (2007). The impact of childhood psychological abuse on adult interpersonal conflict: the role of early maladaptive schemas and patterns of interpersonal behavior. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 7, 75-92.
[vi] Cecero, J. J., Nelson, J. D., & Gillie, J. M. (2004). Tools and tenets of schema therapy: toward the construct validity of the early maladaptive schema questionnaire-research version (EMSQ-R). Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 11, 344-357.
RR5.1: Good Connection with Parents Means Higher Grades
One US study published by The Heritage Foundation in 2008 revealed that parents who adopt a sensitive, warm, and responsive type of parenting and engage in play activities with their young children bolster their kids’ social and emotional development, communication skills, and ability to focus. Beyond academics, teens whose parents are more involved and who feel they receive more support from their parents are more likely to participate in structured after-school activities that, in turn, are positively correlated with achievement and social competence.[i]
Researchers from Penn State University (in 2005, using data from the Adolescent Health Survey) compared students from three generations of Asian, Hispanic and US born Caucasian families. Regardless of ethnicity, this study showed a significant but independent association between parenting styles and students’ grades, as well as positive relationships with others in the community. Thus youths who bonded with their parents and enjoyed good communication with them tended to have higher grades and better physical and emotional well-being.[ii]
The core emotional need for connection and acceptance is not unique to a particular gender—research indicates that a father’s approval is important for the development of healthy self-esteem in both boys and girls.[iii]
RR5.2: Honouring Your Parents Really Does Bring Long Life!
Students who attended Harvard University between the years 1952 and 1954 were asked whether their relationship with their mother and with their father was “very close”, “warm and friendly”, “tolerant”, or “strained and cold”. Thirty-five years later when the participants were middle-aged, their medical records were collected. Results showed that 87% of students who rated their mothers and fathers low in parental caring had been diagnosed with diseases such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, duodenal ulcers and alcoholism in midlife, whereas only 25% of those who rated both their mothers and fathers high in parental caring had diagnosed diseases. This research took into account the family history of illness, smoking behaviour, the death and/or divorce of parents and marital history of the students.[iv]
[i] Kim, C. C. (2008). Academic success begins at home: How children can succeed in school. Backgrounder (Published by The Heritage Foundation), 2185, 1–12; Wimer, C., Simpkins, S. D., & Dearing, E., et al. (2008). Predicting youth out-of-school time participation: Multiple risks and developmental differences. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 54(2), 179–207.
[ii] Kim (2008), Academic success begins at home; Pong, S., Hao, L., & Gardner, E. (2005). The roles of parenting styles and social capital in the school performance of immigrant Asian and Hispanic adolescents. Social Science Quarterly, 86(4), 928–950.
[iii] Kindlon, D. (2001). Too much of a good thing: Raising children of character in an indulgent age. New York: Hyperion. 84.
[iv] Russek, L. G., & Schwartz, G. E. (1997). Perceptions of parental caring predict health status in midlife: a 35-year follow-up of the Harvard Mastery of Stress Study.Psychosomatic Medicine, 59(2), 144-149.
Teenage Girls and Sexuality
The same American Academy of Pediatrics study of Singaporean 14-19 year olds that found boys affected by pornography found that the strongest factor associated with early sexual intercourse for female adolescents was their having a history of sexual abuse. It was also found that sexually abused girls had more partners than non-abused.[i]
Dealing with Sexual Abuse
Do not be angry with your child or even surprised if they do not talk to you when they have been abused. The US-based National Center for Victims of Crime reports that there are many reasons why children are hesitant to disclose instances of abuse:[ii]
Child Sexual Abuse Reporting
Children may resist reporting sexual abuse because they are afraid of angering the offender, they blame themselves for the abuse, or they feel guilty and ashamed. Children are more likely to reveal sexual abuse when talking to someone who appears to “already know” and is not judgmental, critical or threatening. They also tend to disclose when they believe continuation of the abuse will be unbearable, they are physically injured, or when they receive sexual abuse prevention information. Other reasons may be to protect another child or if pregnancy is a threat.[iii]
Once a child discloses the abuse, an appropriate response is extremely important to the child’s healing process. The adult being confided in should encourage the victim to talk freely, reassure the child that he or she is not to blame, and seek medical and psychological assistance. Family members may also benefit from mental health services.
Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Survivors of child sexual abuse use coping mechanisms to deal with the horror of the abuse. One such mechanism known as protective denial entails repressing some or all of the abuse. This may cause significant memory gaps that can last months or even years. Victims also use dissociative coping mechanisms, such as becoming numb, to distance themselves from the psychological and physiological responses to the abuse. They may also turn to substance abuse, self-mutilation and eating disorders. In order to recover, adult survivors must adopt positive coping behaviours, forgive themselves, and relinquish their identities as survivors.[iv] The healing process can begin when the survivor acknowledges the abuse. When working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse, therapists should consider the survivor’s feeling of security and the personal and professional ramifications of disclosure, especially if the abuse involved a family member.
Societal influences play a big role in the recovery process. Although males may have been raised to “be tough” and shoulder responsibility for whatever happens to them, male victims need to understand that the victimization was not their fault. Only then can they begin to accept that they were not responsible for the abuse.[v]
Cycle of Violence
Children who are abused or neglected are more likely to become criminal offenders as adults. A National Institute of Justice study found “that childhood abuse increased the odds of future delinquency and adult criminality overall by 40 percent”.[vi] Child sexual abuse victims are also at risk of becoming ensnared in this cycle of violence. One expert estimates that 40% of sexual abusers were sexually abused as children. In addition, victims of child sexual abuse are almost 30 times more likely than non-victims to be arrested for prostitution as adults.[vii] Some victims become sexual abusers or prostitutes because they have a difficult time relating to others except on sexual terms.
Stopping the Cycle of Violence
With early detection and appropriate treatment, society can prevent some victimized children from becoming adult perpetrators. Parents must be on the alert, since abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level across ethnic and cultural lines within all religions and at all levels of education. Most importantly, in order to intervene early in abuse, parents should educate their children about appropriate sexual behaviour and how to feel comfortable saying “No”.[viii]
According to the US based National Child Abuse Statistics in Childhelp, founded in 1959 by Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson:[ix]
- A report of child abuse is filed every ten seconds.
- More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse.[x]
- Approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of four.[xi]
- It is estimated that 50 to 60% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.[xii]
- More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way.[xiii]
- About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.[xiv]
- About 80% of 21 year olds who were abused as children met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.[xv]
- The estimated cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States for 2008 was $124 billion.[xvi]
- 14% of all men in prison in the USA were abused as children.[xvii]
- 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.[xviii]
- A child who experiences child abuse and neglect is 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.[xix]
- Abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy.[xx]
- Abused teens are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for STDs.[xxi]
- One-third to two-thirds of child maltreatment cases involve substance abuse to some degree.[xxii]
- Children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abusing families.[xxiii]
As many as two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children.[xxiv]
[i] Wong, M. L., Chan, K. W., Koh, D., Tan, H. H., Lim, F. S., Emmanuel, S., & Bishop, G. (2009). Premarital sexual intercourse among adolescents in an Asian country: Multilevel ecological factors. Pediatrics; Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Hanson, U., & Tyden, T. (2005). Associations between pornography consumption and sexual practices among adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD and AIDS, 16(2), 102-107.
[ii] National Center for Victims of Crime. (1997). Child sexual abuse. Retrieved August 31, 2012, from Network of Victim Assistance – NOVA: http://www.novabucks.org/childsexualabuse.html
[iii] American Humane Association Children’s Division. (1993). Child sexual abuse: AHA fact sheet #4. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.
[iv] Sgroi, S. (1989). Stages of recovery for adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Vulnerable populations: Sexual abuse treatment for children, adult survivors, offenders, and persons with mental retardation Volume 2, S. Sgroi, Ed. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
[v] Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. (1990). Virginia Child Protection Newsletter, 31: 1-12.
[vi] Widom, C. S. (1992). The cycle of violence. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
[vii] Widom, C. S. (1995). Victims of childhood sexual abuse—Later criminal consequences. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
[viii] American Humane Association Children’s Division (1993), Child sexual abuse.
[ix] Childhelp. (n.d.). National child abuse statistics. Retrieved May 30, 2012, from Childhelp: http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics#abuse-conseq
[x] United States Government Accountability Office, 2011. Child maltreatment: strengthening national data on child fatalities could aid in prevention (GAO-11-599). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11599.pdf
[xi] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010), Child Maltreatment 2009.
[xii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau. Child abuse and neglect fatalities 2009: Statistics and interventions. Retrieved from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/fatality.pdf
[xiii] Snyder, H. N. (2000, July). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: victim, incident, and offender characteristics. Retrieved from http://bjs.oup.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf
[xiv] Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2008). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved May 31, 2012 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/long_term_consequences.cfm
[xvi] Fang, X., Brown, D. S., Florence, C. S., & Mercy, J. A. (2012) The economic burden of child maltreatment in the United States and implications for prevention. Child Abuse & Neglect, 36(2), 156-165.
[xvii] Harlow, C., U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. (1999). Prior abuse reported by inmates and probationers (NCJ 172879) Retrieved from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/parip.pdf
[xix] Child Welfare Information Gateway (2008), Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect.
[xxii] Parental substance abuse. Retrieved May 31, 2012 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/can/factors/parentcaregiver/substance.cfm
[xxiv] Swan, N. (1998). Exploring the role of child abuse on later drug abuse: Researchers face broad gaps in information. NIDA Notes, 13(2). Retrieved May 31, 2012 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse website: www.nida.nih.gov/NIDA_notes/NNVol13N2/exploring.html
RR7.1: Important Aspects of Family Time
The report published in 2008 by the US-based Society for Research in Child Development, authored by Barbara Fiese and Marlene Schwartz,[i] suggests that infrequency of family mealtimes, a negative climate during shared mealtimes, and poor quality food choices are related to children’s health issues such as depression, worry, fear, self-injury, social withdrawal and poor academic achievement.[ii] Specifically regarding regular family dinners and nutrition, the two wrote:
A medical study of children ages nine to fourteen found that children who have more regular dinners with their families and have more healthful dietary patterns, including more fruits and vegetables and less saturated and trans fat, fried food and soda, have better mental health and are less likely to suffer from pediatric obesity. (Findings held up after statistical controls for household income, maternal employment, body mass index, physical activity, and other factors.)[iii]
The report also stated that conflicting schedules is the number one reason for not sharing a meal.[iv] Another study found that on days when adults felt hassled and stressed, they consumed more high fat/sugary snacks and spent fewer minutes having regular meals.[v]Given that more households are now two income households, less time is available to plan and cook healthy meals. Since meals at home are lower in calories and fat than meals in restaurants, the nutritional value of family meals has degraded.[vi] For example, kids’ menus usually offer hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, deep-fried meat dishes and sugar heavy desserts.
The environment of the mealtime is also a predictor of a child’s well-being, the report said. The absence of television is significantly related to the child’s well-being. When the family comes together at the table, there should be a certain expectation to serve, listen and give to each other, not just to eat. Families that communicate in a considerate, direct, and clear manner during mealtimes are also less likely to have children with internalizing symptoms, such as depression, worry, fear, self-injury, and social withdrawal.[vii]
Finally the report revealed that parents giving attention to their children, responding to questions from their children, and keeping everyone’s behaviour at the table well regulated is associated with enriched language development and academic achievement.[viii]However, if either parent employs one or more of the various exasperation interactions, then the mealtime will serve as an example of an unhealthy parenting experience for their children, i.e. the process will backfire.
RR7.2: Attachment Research and Connection
John Bowlby changed this thinking. His study of ethology, psychology and other related fields revealed results that went against mainstream thinking and challenged this view. He hypothesised that infants would experience loss and suffering when separated from their primary caregivers, and as a result of his own observations, put forward the theory of the importance of attachment of infants to mothers from birth. His writings were influential and caused many changes in hospitals and in the childcare practises of his day. Mary Ainsworth was a student of Bowlby and later became his colleague. She studied the nature of infant separation in Uganda and came up with a method of research used for identifying different attachment styles between mothers and infants.
Children between six and 30 months are very likely to form emotional attachments to familiar caregivers, especially if the adults are sensitive and responsive to child communications.
The emotional attachment of young children is shown behaviourally in their preferences for particular familiar people, their tendency to seek proximity to those people (especially in times of distress), and their ability to use familiar adults as a secure base from which to explore the environment.
The formation of emotional attachments contributes to the foundation of later emotional and personality development, and the type of behaviour toward familiar adults shown by toddlers has some continuity with the social behaviours they will show later in life.
Events that interfere with attachment, such as abrupt separation of the toddler from familiar people or the significant inability of caregivers to be sensitive, responsive or consistent in their interactions, have a short-term and possible long-term negative impact on the child’s emotional and cognitive life.
Attachment according to Bowlby is defined as, “Lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”.[ix] This means an affectionate bond or tie between an individual and an attachment figure, usually the parents. Such bonds may be reciprocal between two adults, but between a child and a caregiver, these bonds are based on the child’s need for safety, security and protection, all of which are paramount in infancy and childhood.[x]
Other research stemming from attachment theory has shown that a child’s development is also affected by the quality of earlier bonds and relationships with caregivers.[xi] We know from the principles and empirical evidence mentioned earlier in the book that early and later experiences will also shape a person’s view of him or herself and that of others. Here are some important broad findings on the importance of early attachment:
- Secure infants are more likely to become socially competent than are insecure ones.[xii]
- Insecure infants are placed at risk of developing future pathology such as mental health issues.[xiii]
In 1991, the US Department of Health and Human Services posted these findings regarding early attachment between infants and caregivers:[xiv]
- Children with secure attachments have more basic trust than those whose attachments are insecure and marred by anxiety.
- Children with secure attachments have more ego resiliency through early and middle childhood, meaning their self-esteem will be healthier, unless they experience significant negative changes. They can also cope with setbacks and recover more quickly.
- Securely attached children have more flexibility in processing current information and in responding appropriately in new situations and relationships.
According to the research above, children with secure attachments have better self-esteem, are more trusting and more resilient during difficult times, handle relationships better, and are more flexible learners.
RR7.3: Changing the Protocol for Premature Babies
Tiffany Field, who gave birth to a premature baby, realised that incubators did not allow parents to touch their babies. She later invented an incubator that helped parents touch their new-born. The research that put Field and her organisation on the map showed that massage caused premature infants to gain more weight than their non-massaged peers—thereby improving the infants’ health and potentially saving millions of dollars each year in health-care costs. That study was published in 1988. Today, more than 100 studies and 350 medical journal articles later, Field is recognized as the premier expert in touch research and advocate for touch therapy.[xv]
RR7.4: Mozart Effect
Researchers at Appalachian State University believe that they have debunked what has been called the “Mozart effect”, i.e., a temporary increase in intelligence experienced after listening to a piano sonata written by the famed composer.[xvi]
RR7.5: Decline in Time Spent between Parents and Children
Take a look at the general trend of the amount of time between parents and children over the years in America, which is probably also the case in many first world nations. These findings are taken from a wonderful website resource for parents called “Putting Family First”[xvii] (http://www.puttingfamilyfirst.org), which was created by William Doherty and Barbara Carlson. In a detailed article highlighting some very important trends related to the lack of connection that is all too common in America in recent years, the authors note the following:[xviii]
(Findings from national time diary surveys conducted in 1981 and 1997 by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan.[xix] All findings reported below are from this study unless otherwise footnoted.)
1. A major decline in the free time of children ages three to twelve between 1981 and 1997.
- Free time: A decline of twelve hours per week in overall free time for children
- Play time: Decreased by three hours per week (a 25% drop from about sixteen hours to about thirteen hours for the whole group—less than nine hours per week for older children)
- Unstructured outdoor activities: Fell by 50% (includes activities such as walking, hiking or camping).
2. A decline in family and religious participation time.
- Household conversations: Dropped by 100%, which means that in 1997 the average American family spent no time per week when talking altogether as a family was the primary activity. (The 1981 baseline was already low.) Overall, children in 1997 averaged about 45 minutes per week in conversation with anyone in the family, when the conversation was the primary activity.
- Family mealtime: Declined by nearly an hour per week from 1981 to 1997, from about nine hours per week to about eight hours per week.
- Family dinners: A 33% decrease over three decades in families who say they have dinner regularly. (This finding is from repeated annual surveys of American families.[xx] In a 1995 national poll, only one-third of U.S. families said they “usually have their evening meal together on a daily basis.”)[xxi]
- Vacations: A 28% decrease over the past twenty years in the number of families taking a vacation (from annual surveys of American families).[xxii]
- Religious participation: A decline of 40% in hours per week in children’s (ages three to twelve) religious participation time from 1981 to 1997[xxiii]; and a decline of 24% of high school students with weekly religious attendance (from 40% in 1981 to 31% in 1997, based on annual surveys of high school students).[xxiv]
3. A major increase from 1981 to 1997 in children’s time spent on:
- Structured sports: Doubled from 2 hours and 20 minutes per week to 5 hours and 17 minutes per week. Boys and girls increased equally in structured sports time, but boys still spent twice as much time as girls in sports.
- Passive, spectator leisure (not counting television or other forms of “screen time”): A fivefold increase from a half hour per week to over three hours per week. This includes watching siblings play structured sports.
- Studying: Increased by almost 50% from 1981 to 1997.
- The same research also highlighted the value of family time in raising well-adjusted children, which is shown below:
- Mealtime: More mealtimes at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioural problems. Regular mealtimes were far more powerful than time spent in school or studying, at church, playing sports, and doing art activities. Results were statistically controlled for age and gender of child, race and ethnicity, education and age of the head of the family, family structure and employment, income, and family size.[xxv]
- Regular family dinners and teen adjustment: The largest ever federally funded study of American teenagers found a strong association between regular family meals (five or more dinners per week with a parent) and academic success and psychological adjustment, as well as lower rates of alcohol use, drug use, early sexual behaviour, and suicidal risk. (After controlling for social class factors, results held for both one parent and two parent families.)[xxvi]
Teens’ concerns: In a national YMCA poll of a representative sample of American teens in 2000, 21% rated “not having enough time together with parents” as one of their top two concerns. (The other was “educational worries”.)[xxvii]
RR 7.6: Childhood Games Better Than Flashcards
Researchers at Oregon State University have found that, rather than focusing on things like tuition classes, flashcards and math drills, playing typical childhood playground games may be the best way to help kids do better in school. A New York Times article, entitled “Simon Says Don’t Uses Flashcards”, states, “Variations on games like Freeze Tag and Simon Says require relatively high levels of executive function, testing a child’s ability to pay attention, remember rules, and exhibit self-control—qualities that also predict academic success.” Megan McClelland, who has led much of the research, says, “Play is one of the most cognitively stimulating things a child can do.” One study of 814 children between three and six showed that “children who do well in Simon Says-like games do better in math and reading. A smaller study of 65 preschool children found that those who started the school year with low levels of self-control showed improvement after playing games in class, including a version of Red Light, Green Light.” What makes the Oregon State study so exciting is that it was a longitudinal study that followed 430 subjects from preschool to the age of 25. “It turns out that a child’s ability at age 4 to pay attention and complete a task, the very skills learned in game play, were the greatest predictors of whether he or she finished college by age 25.”[xxviii]
RR7.7: The Hurried Child
Elkind frequently speaks up about how parents today are hurrying children to grow up too fast. One of the obvious ways is by making them plunge into the learning of mathematics and advanced reading that is not appropriate for their age. In The Hurried Child he states:
Advanced reading, like advanced number understanding, is quite different from beginners reading, although again our language provides no markers of the difference. We talk about children reading or not reading as if children either read or do not read. But there are many different levels of reading attainment. The young child who has memorized all of the words in a book has learned to sight read, but like learning the numbers two and three sight reading is a much easier mental activity than decoding new words using syntactic structure to infer meaning. That level of reading does not usually emerge until the age of six or seven. These levels of competence are often ignored when children are hurried…Mastering the basic skills means acquiring an enormous number of rules and learning to apply them appropriately. Hurrying children academically, therefore, ignores the enormity of the task that children face in acquiring basic math and reading skills. We need to appreciate how awesome an intellectual task learning the basics really is for children and give them the time they need to accomplish it well.[xxix]
[i] Fiese, B., & Schwartz, M. (2008). Reclaiming the family table: Mealtimes and child health and wellbeing. Social Policy Report: Giving Child and Youth Development Knowledge Away, 22(4), 1-19.
[ii] Fiese, B. H., Foley, K. P., & Spagnola, M. (2006). Routine and ritual elements in family mealtimes: Contexts for child wellbeing and family identity. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 111, 67-90.
[iii] Gillman, M. W., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Frazier, A. L., Rockette, H. R. H., Camargo, C. A., Field, A. E., Berkey, C. S., & Colditz, G. A. (2000). Family dinners and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Archives of Family Medicine, 9, 235-240.
[iv] CASA. (2007). The importance of family dinners III. New York: Columbia University.
[v] O’Connor, D. B., Jones, F., Conner, M., McMillan, B., & Ferguson, E. (2008). Effects of daily hassles and eating style on eating behavior. Health Psychology, 27, 20–31.
[vi] Lin, B., Guthrie, J., & Frazao, E. (1999). Quality of children’s diets at and away from home: 1994-1996. Food Review, 22, 2-10.
[vii] Fiese, Foley & Spagnola (2006), Routine and ritual elements in family mealtimes.
[viii] Beals, D. E. (2001). Eating and reading: Links between family conversations with preschoolers and later language and literacy. In D. K. Dickinson & P. O. Tabors (Eds.),Beginning literacy with language: Young children at home and school. (pp. 75-92). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing; Fivush, R., Bohanke, J., Robertson, R., & Duke, M. (2004). Family narratives and the development of children’s emotional well-being. In M. W. Pratt & B. H. Fiese (Eds.), Family stories and the life course across time and generations (pp. 55-76). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
[ix] Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books. 194.
[x] Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. Tavistock professional book. London: Routledge.
[xi] Rutter, M. (1995). Clinical implications of attachment concepts: Retrospect and Prospect. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 36 (4), 549-571.
[xii] Berlin, L. J., Cassidy, J., & Appleyard, K. (2008). The influence of early attachments on other relationships. In Handbook of attachment, theory, research, and clinical applications.New York: The Guilford Press.
[xiii] Pearce, J. W., & Pezzot-Pearce, T. D. (2007). Psychotherapy of abused and neglected children (2nd ed.). New York & London: Guilford Press. 17-20.
[xiv] Colin, V. L. (1991, June 28). Infant attachment: What we know now. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://aspe.hhs.gov/
[xv] Menehan, K. (2006). Tiffany Field on massage research. Retrieved May 20, 2012, from Massage Magazine exploring today’s touch therapies: http://www.massagemag.com/News/2006/January/125/Tiffany.php
[xvi] Sweeney, D. (n.d.). The Mozart effect: Classical music and your baby’s brain. Retrieved May 20, 2012, from BabyCenter: http://www.babycenter.com/0_the-mozart-effect-classical-music-and-your-babys-brain_9308.bc
[xvii] Putting Family First: www.puttingfamilyfirst.org
[xviii] Doherty, W., & Carlson, B. (n.d.). Overscheduled kids, underconnected families: The research evidence. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from Putting Family First: www.puttingfamilyfirst.org
[xix] Hofferth, S. L. (1999). Changes in American children’s time, 1981-1997. University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Center Survey; Hofferth, S. L. (2001). How American children spend their time. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 295-308.
[xx] Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
[xxi] RGA Communications, The 1995 Kentucky Fried Chicken Family Dinner Survey.
[xxii] Putnam (2000), Bowling alone.
[xxiii] Hofferth (1999), Changes in American children’s time; Hofferth (2001), How American children spend their time.
[xxiv] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1999). Trends in the well-being of America’s children and youth, 1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of HHS.
[xxv] Hofferth (1999), Changes in American children’s time; Hofferth (2001), How American children spend their time.
[xxvi] Council of Economic Advisers to the President. (2000). Teens and their parents in the 21st century: An examination of trends in teen behaviour and the role of parental involvement. Washington, DC: Council of Economic Advisors to the President.
[xxvii] YMCA. (2000). Talking with teens: The YMCA parent and teen survey final report.New York: The Global Strategy Group, Inc.
[xxviii] McClelland, M. M., Acock, A. C., Piccinin, A., Rhea, S. A., & Stallings, M. C. (2012). Relations between preschool attention span-persistence and age 25 educational outcomes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly; Parker-Pope (2012, August 23), Simon says don’t use flashcards.
[xxix] Elkind (2007), The power of play, 149; Piaget, J. (1950). The moral judgement of the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
RR10.1: Working on Marriage Benefits Children
In our book on marriage, I Choose Us, we wrote about the problems that accompany abandonment or separation:[i]
- In Britain, less than half of the children in single-parent families see their fathers once a week. And 20-30% of non-resident fathers have not seen their children in over a year.[ii]In the wake of divorce, it is common for the “leaving parent”—the one not getting basic custody, usually the father—to promise the children that he will always be there for them and will maintain a close relationship with them. Unfortunately, this promise is frequently not kept. Because of inconveniences arising from the divorce, and for other reasons, fathers often find it challenging to see their children. It should not come as a surprise then that many good intentions fall through on the part of both of the parents after the divorce. Generally speaking, the bond, especially between fathers and their children, deteriorates after a divorce.[iii]
- Children in single-parent families receive about nine hours less from their mother per week than children from families where the parents were still married and living together.[iv]
While no one sets out to get divorced, perhaps if parents knew the dire consequences of the alternative, they might take better care of their marriage!
Children learn from example, and imitate their parental role models more than parents realise. The lives of the parents provide a blueprint of how the children will probably lead their lives later on. Statistics show that the quality of the parents’ marriage affects the quality of the children’s relationships when they end up getting married. Our actions have consequences, the effects of which are felt in more than one generation.[v]
- Single mothers are twice as likely as two-parent families to live in poverty.[vi]
- Single mothers are also eight times as likely to be without jobs and twelve times as likely to be on some form of government support.[vii]
- Divorce causes the level of income for a middle-income family to decrease by 50%.[viii]
- Single parents are also twice as likely to not have any savings.[ix]
- Children in single-parent homes are 80% more likely to have health problems, such as pains, headaches, stomach symptoms, etc., than children from two-parent homes, even after taking into account economic hardship.[x]
- Divorce causes children to have more emotional distress and increases the risk of mental illness.[xi] These symptoms do not disappear quickly. They linger on, in some cases for years.
- Children who live in a house with a stepfather, or a mother’s boyfriend, are more likely to be abused than those living with their father or with a mother only.[xii]
- Living with a step-parent has turned out to be the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse yet.[xiii]
- Young people are five times more likely to experience abuse if they grow up in a single home than if they grow up with parents whose marriages are still intact, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).[xiv]
The overwhelming evidence points conclusively to the fact that the state of marriages affects parenting, and has huge ramifications on children’s relationships with their parents, economic well-being, physical and psychological health, protection from domestic violence, and the likelihood that these children in turn will stay together later on in their marriages.
[i] Louis, J. P., & Louis, K. M. (2010). I choose us: A Christian perspective on building love connection in your marriage by breaking harmful cycles. Singapore: Louis Counselling & Training Services.
[ii] Burghes, L., Clarke, L., & Cronin, N. (1997). Fathers and fatherhood in Britain. London: Family Policy Studies Centre; Bradshaw, J., & Millar, J. (1991). Lone parent families in the UK. Department of Social Security Research Report No 6. London: HMSO.
[iii] Louis & Louis (2010), I choose us, 8.
[iv] Waite, L., & Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York: Doubleday. 128.
[v] Louis & Louis (2010), I choose us, 9.
[vi] O’Neill, R. (2005). Does marriage matter? London: Civitas, Institute for the Study of Civil Society. 10.
[vii] Office for National Statistics. (2001). Work and worklessness among households.London: The Stationery Office; Office for National Statistics. (2002, May). Family resources survey, Great Britain, 2000-01. London: The Stationery Office.
[viii] McLanahan, S., & Sandefur, G. (1994). Growing up with a single parent. Cambridge, MA: President and Fellows of Harvard College. 167-168.
[ix] Office for National Statistics. (2002). Social trends 32. London: The Stationery Office. Table 5.25, 103.
[x] Cockett, M., & Tripp, J. (1994). The Exeter family study: Family breakdown and its impact on children. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. 21.
[xi] Amato, P. R. (2000). Consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1269-1287; Simons, R. L., Lin, K-H., Gordon, L. C., Conger, R. D., & Lorenz, F. O. (1999). Explaining the higher incidence of adjustment problems among children of divorce compared with those in two-parent families. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61(4), 1020-1033.
[xii] O’Neill (2005), Does marriage matter?, 27.
[xiii] Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1996). Evolutionary psychology and marital conflict: The relevance of stepchildren. In Buss, D. M., & Malamuth, N. M. (Eds.), Sex, power, conflict: Evolutionary and feminist perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 9-28.
[xiv] Cawson, P. (2002). Child maltreatment in the family. London: NSPCC. 10.
RR12.1: Self-Discipline More Important Than IQ
In summary, the study revealed the following regarding the effect of self-discipline:[i]
- Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive counterparts on every academic-performance variable, including report-card grades, standardized achievement-test scores, admission to a competitive high school, and attendance.
- Self-discipline measured in the fall predicted more variance in each of these outcomes: report-card grades, standardized achievement-test scores, admission to a competitive high school, and attendance, than did IQ, and unlike IQ, self-discipline predicted gains in academic performance over the school year.
- The correlation coefficients between self-discipline and most achievement indicators were significantly higher than and at least twice the size of correlations between IQ and the same outcomes.
It certainly seems clear that self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than intellectual talent. However, who or what do parents blame when their children underachieve? Usually the school, teachers, lack of tutors, and large class sizes. While these are important factors, parents should also look closer to home—perhaps they failed to teach their children to make wise choices, to sacrifice short-term pleasures for long-term gains, and to pay attention to rules and remember instructions.
[i] Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939–944.
An Extensive Look at Media and Youth
The Kaiser Family Foundation undertook a comprehensive study on the use of media among American youth, entitled, “Generation M2, Media in the lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds”.The study was done on a sample of over 2,000 young people, from ages eight to eighteen, and was published in 2010. It covered a whole array of media such as TV, computers, video games, music, print, cell phones and movies. We extracted some of their frightening findings:[i]
- For purposes of comparison, young people were grouped into categories of heavy, moderate and light media users. Heavy users are those who consume more than 16 hours of media content in a typical day (21% of children from eight to eighteen); moderate users are those who consume from 3–16 hours of content (63%); light users are those who consume less than three hours of media in a typical day (17%).
- Nearly half (47%) of all heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower), compared to 23% of light media users. Heavy media users are also more likely to say they get into trouble a lot, are often sad or unhappy, and say they are bored. Moreover, the relationships between media exposure and grades, and between media exposure and personal contentment, withstood controls for other possibly relevant factors such as age, gender, race, parent education, and single vs. two-parent households. This study could not establish whether there is a cause and effect relationship between media use and grades, or between media use and personal contentment. If there are such relationships, they could well run in both directions simultaneously.
- Children who live in homes that limit media opportunities spend less time with media. For example, children whose parents do not put a TV in their bedroom, do not leave the TV on during meals or in the background when no one is watching, and do impose media-related rules spend substantially less time with media than do those who are not limited in the choices they make about screen time.
- Over the past five years, young people have increased the amount of time they spend consuming media by an hour and seventeen minutes daily, from an already worrying six hours and twenty-one minutes to a staggering seven hours and thirty-eight minutes! Considering that young people use media seven days a week instead of five, this means that they are spending 54 hours a week on media, more time than most adults spend at work!
- Just under half (45%) of all eight to eighteen-year-olds say they live in a home where the TV is left on most of the time, whether anyone is watching or not, and 64% say the TV is usually on in their household during meals. The percentage of young people reporting a TV on most of the time and a TV usually on during meals has remained relatively constant over the last decade.
- In a typical day, 46% of eight to eighteen-year-olds report sending text messages on a cell phone. Those who do text estimate that they send an average of 118 messages in a typical day. On average, 7th–12th graders report spending about an hour and a half engaged in sending and receiving texts.
- The gender difference in computer time only begins to appear in the teenage years. Boys and girls start out spending equal amounts of time on a computer, but a disparity develops over time. Among fifteen to eighteen-year-olds, there is a gap of about 40 minutes between the genders (two hours for boys, and roughly an hour and twenty minutes for girls). One clear reason for the disparity in this age group is that girls lose interest in computer games as they enter their teenage years, while boys do not. Girls go from an average of 12 minutes a day playing computer games when they are in the eight to ten-year-old group, to just three minutes a day by the time they are fifteen to eighteen years old; there is no such decrease among boys.
- Only a relatively small proportion of eight to eighteen-year-olds say they have any rules about music listening: 26% say they have rules about what types of music they are allowed to listen to, and 10% say they have rules about how much time they can spend listening to music. The proportion with rules about which music they can listen to decreases substantially by age, going from nearly half (47%) of all eight to ten-year-olds to 27% of eleven to fourteen-year-olds to just 12% of all fifteen to eighteen-year-olds.
Another noteworthy study was conducted in Singapore, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (2009), which found the strongest factor associated with early teenage sexual intercourse for male adolescents was viewing pornography between 14 and 19 years of age. This finding agreed with another study conducted in Sweden with boys between 17-21 years of age. In addition, of the boys who viewed pornography, 59% used computers, 19% used videos, and 14% made use of mobile phones.[ii]
Dangers of Excessive Media Exposure
From a number of national (US-based) surveys, we found the following:
Parent Further, a search institute resource for families, warns of excessive computer and other media exposure.[iii]
According to one study, nearly 1 in 10 young gamers displayed behavior patterns similar to addiction.[iv]
According to A.C. Nielsen, the average American watches more than four hours of TV each day (or 28 hours per week, or two months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent nine years glued to the tube.[v]
Below are some statistics compiled by TV-Free America:
- The number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
- The number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
- The percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem: 79%
In his book, Take Back Your Kids, William Doherty wrote:
During the 7-8pm time slot (once defined as family hour), 80% of television shows use four letter words, and 60% refer to sex.[vi]
During all the prime time slots, 74% of all TV shows contain sexual content.[vii]
Children are exposed to an estimated 10,000 food advertisements per year, mostly on TV.[viii]
Media Awareness Network, has this to say about the effects of Media on children:[ix]
Rowell Huesmann reviewed studies conducted in Australia, Finland, Poland, Israel, Netherlands and the United States. He reports, “The child most likely to be aggressive would be the one who (a) watches violent television programs most of the time, (b) believes that these shows portray life just as it is, [and] (c) identifies strongly with the aggressive characters in the shows.”[x]
A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2003 found that nearly half (47%) of parents with children between the ages of four and six report that their children have imitated aggressive behaviors from TV. However, it is interesting to note that children are more likely to mimic positive behaviors—87% of kids do so.[xi]
Recent research is exploring the effect of new media on children’s behavior. Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman of Iowa State University reviewed dozens of studies of video gamers. In 2001, they reported that children and young people who play violent video games, even for short periods, are more likely to behave aggressively in the real world; and that both aggressive and non-aggressive children are negatively affected by playing.[xii]
In 2003, two Iowa State University researchers teamed up with the Texas Department of Human Services and reported that violent music lyrics increased aggressive thoughts and hostile feelings among 500 college students. They concluded, “There are now good theoretical and empirical reasons to expect effects of music lyrics on aggressive behavior to be similar to the well-studied effects of exposure to TV and movie violence and the more recent research efforts on violent video games.”[xiii]
Columbia University professor Jeffrey Johnson has found that the effect is not limited to children who grew up watching violent shows. Johnson tracked 707 families in upstate New York for 17 years, starting in 1975. In 2002, he reported that children who watched one to three hours of any kind of television each day when they were 14 to 16 years old were 60% more likely to be involved in assaults and fights as adults than those who watched less TV.[xiv]
Researchers have also pursued the link between media violence and real life aggression by examining communities before and after the introduction of television. In the mid-1970s, University of British Columbia professor Tannis McBeth Williams studied a remote village in British Columbia both before and after television was introduced. She found that two years after TV arrived, violent incidents had increased by 160%.[xv]
University of Washington Professor Brandon Centerwall noted that the sharp increase in the murder rate in North America in 1955 occurred eight years after television sets began to enter North American homes. To test his hypothesis that the two were related, he examined the murder rate in South Africa where, prior to 1975, television was banned by the government. He found that twelve years after the ban was lifted, murder rates skyrocketed.
In 1998, Professors Singer, Slovak, Frierson and York surveyed 2,000 Ohio students in grades three through eight. They report that the incidences of psychological trauma (including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress) increased in proportion to the number of hours of television watched each day.[xvi]
A number of studies in the 1970’s showed that people who are repeatedly exposed to media violence tend to be less disturbed when they witness real world violence, and have less sympathy for its victims. For example, Professors V.B. Cline, R.G. Croft, and S. Courrier studied young boys over a two-year period. In 1973, they reported that boys who watch more than 25 hours of television per week are significantly less likely to be aroused by real world violence than those boys who watch four hours or less per week.[xvii]
The late George Gerbner conducted the longest running study of television violence that we know of. His seminal research found that frequent TV viewers tend to perceive the world in ways that are consistent with the images on TV. As viewers’ perceptions of the world come to conform with the depictions they see on TV, they become more passive, more anxious, and more fearful. Gerbner calls this the “Mean World Syndrome.” Gerbner’s research, published in 1994, found that those who watch greater amounts of television are more likely to overestimate their risk of being victimized by crime; believe their neighborhoods are unsafe; believe “fear of crime is a very serious personal problem”; and assume the crime rate is increasing, even when it is not.[xviii]
[i] Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year olds—A Kaiser Family Foundation study. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, California.
[ii] Wong, M. L., Chan, K. W., Koh, D., Tan, H. H., Lim, F. S., Emmanuel, S., & Bishop, G. (2009). Premarital sexual intercourse among adolescents in an Asian country: Multilevel ecological factors. Pediatrics; Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Hanson, U., & Tyden, T. (2005). Associations between pornography consumption and sexual practices among adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD and AIDS, 16(2), 102-107.
[iii] ParentFurther. (n.d.). (Search Institute) Retrieved April 23, 2012, from ParentFurther: A Search Institute resource for families: http://www.parentfurther.com
[iv] Douglas, G. (2009). Pathological video game use among youth 8 – 18: A national study.Psychological Science, 20(5), 594-602.
[v] Television & Health. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2012, from California State University Northridge: http://www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&health.html
[vi] Doherty, W. J. (2000). Take back your kids: Confident parenting in turbulent times.Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books. 138-142.
[ix] Research on effects of Media Violence (n.d.). Media Awareness Network: http://www.media-awareness.ca
[x] Huesmann, L. R. (1982). Television violence and aggressive behavior. In: D. Perl, L. Bouthilet, & J. Lazar (Eds.), Television and behavior: Ten years of programs and implications for the 80’s (pp. 126-137). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
[xi] Rideout, V. J., Vandewater, E. A., & Wartella, E. A. (2003). Zero to six: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers and preschoolers—A Kaiser Family Foundation report. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, California.
[xii] Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive recognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science, 12, 353-359.
[xiii] Anderson, C. A., Carnagey, N. L., & Eubanks, J. (2003). Exposure to violent media: The effect of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(5), 960-971.
[xiv] Johnson, J. G., Cohen, P., Smailes, E. M., Kasen, S., & Brook, J. S. (2002). Television viewing and aggressive behavior during adolescence and adulthod. Science, 295(5564), 2468-2471.
[xv] Williams, T. M. (Ed.). (1986). The impact of television: A natural experiment in three communities. New York: Praeger.
[xvi] Singer, M. I., Slovak, K., Frierson, T., & York, P. (1998). Viewing preferences, symptoms of psychological trauma, and violent behaviors among children who watch television. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 37, 1041-1048.
[xvii] Cline, V. B., Croft, R. G., & Courrier, S. (1973). Desensitization of children to television violence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27(3), 360-365.
[xviii] Gerbner, G. (2004). TV violence and the art of asking the wrong question. In The World & I; A Chronicle of Our Changing Era, July, 1994, pp.385-397. Retrieved September 14, 2012, from Center for Media Literacy: http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/tv-violence-and-art-asking-wrong-question
RR16.1: Children’s Free Time Declining, Homework Increasing
A study by Sandra Hofferth of the Survey Research Centre at the University of Michigan, entitled “Changes in American Children’s Time, 1981-1997”, revealed that:
- Children’s overall free time had declined by about 12 hours per week in overall free time for children.
- Playtime for children had decreased by three hours per week from 16 hours per week to 13.
- Unstructured outdoor activities had fallen by about 50%.
Studying (homework) had increased by almost 50% during this 16-year period.[i]
[i] Hofferth, S. L. (1999). Changes in America children’s time, 1981-1997. University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Center Survey.
Bouquets and Brickbats for Singapore’s “Number One” Rankings”
One of the world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, revealed that among developed countries, Singapore has the lowest mortality rate for young males (the US has the highest) and attributes this to several factors: virtually no access to guns, drugs, or gangs for Singaporean teens; no “ghetto-type areas”; a good education system that mandates participation in extra-curricular activities; and limiting driver’s licences to those 18 and over.[i]
Sleep Deprivation on the Rise in the Developed World and Endemic in Singapore
On the down side, the increased education-related expectations placed upon Singapore boys and girls by parents and teachers means they are experiencing sleep deprivation, which results not just in crankier children, or shorter tempers, but also in serious mental health issues.[ii] The Wall Street Journal, on January 18, 2011, reported the following: 5
- According to America’s National Sleep Foundation’s 2004 “Sleep in America poll” of 1,473 adults with children aged 10 and younger in the home, 13% of school-age children had difficulty falling asleep at bedtime and 26% of pre-schoolers seemed sleepy or overtired during the day, at least a few days a week. About 45% of adolescents aged 11 to 17 got less than eight hours of sleep a night.
- A 2010 study of 392 boys and girls in the US, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, showed that those who had trouble sleeping at 12 to 14 years old were more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts at ages 15 to 17 as those who didn’t have sleep problems at the younger age.
- Another study in the US of 1,037 children revealed that 46% of those who were considered to have a persistent sleep difficulty at age nine had an anxiety disorder at age 21 or 26. By comparison, of the children who didn’t have sleep problems at age 9, 33% had an anxiety disorder as young adults. This study was published in 2005 in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
In yet another study, published in 2010 by Science Translational Medicine, neurologists at Harvard Medical School highlighted that staying awake for 24 hours in a row is on par with legal intoxication with alcohol (in driving) in impairing performance. Sleeping only six hours per night for two weeks causes a similar level of impairment as staying awake for 24 hours.6
In findings that strike close to home, The Straits Times of Singapore reported in the April 20, 2012 issue that Singaporean children get an average of two hours less sleep than their peers in Switzerland. Paediatricians from Singapore’s National University Hospital studied 372 children aged two to six. The doctors were disturbed to find that the children’s parents thought that their children’s sleep patterns were fine. One of the professors said, “My personal experience is that many children and teenagers (in Singapore) are quite sleep-deprived. They see me in the clinic for headaches, dizziness and poor attention in class.” He also said that after the children took his advice to get more sleep, many of their physical problems improved, and some of the children and teens showed “markedly improved academic ability.”7
Singapore Children Have High Rate of Mental Illness
Singapore is certainly well-known for being a stressful city—According to the Singapore Institute of Mental Health, many children in Singapore are likely to face depression, which is the most common mental illness here. Others succumb to alcohol abuse, or end up with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is anxiety characterised by obsessions, compulsive rituals, and intrusive thoughts and impulses. Another surprising finding is that Singapore has the world’s highest rate for OCD—3% of the population. (The figure in the U.S. is 2.3% and 1.1% in Europe.) Mental and chronic physical illness such as cancer, heart conditions, diabetes and high blood pressure often go hand in hand. Over 14% of people with chronic physical illness also have a mental illness. Among those with mental illness, over half have a chronic physical illness. 3
Heavy Backpacks Cause Lasting Damage
The Italian Backpack Study done in 1999 found that the average load students carried amounted to 22% of their body weight, thus exceeding the recommended 15%. They also found that 34.8% of students carried more than 30% of their normal body weight at least once during the week.12
Researchers in Hong Kong studied students’ lung volume. Scientists found that theaverage weight of school students’ backpacks was equivalent to 15% of their body weight. However, in the case of those who were carrying up to 20% of their body weight, their lung volume was significantly compromised.13
Another study compared the backpack weight of students in India with their counterparts in Houston, Texas. Almost 60% of students aged nine to 20 years old from both countries suffered from chronic back pain! And the percentage of students with back pain who carried backpack loads that constituted only 15% of their body weight regularly was drastically lower.14
High Rate of Myopia Linked with Lack of Outdoor Light
A study published in The Lancet in May 2012 revealed that myopia has emerged as a major health issue in parts of Asia, affecting 80–90% of graduating school children compared to 10–20% of those completing secondary schooling in other parts of the world: “The higher prevalence of myopia in east Asian cities seems to be associated with increasing educational pressures, combined with lifestyle changes, which have reduced the time children spend outside.”15
A BBC report also confirmed the findings of this research study: “According to the research, the problem is being caused by a combination of factors—a commitment to education and lack of outdoor light.”16 The researchers said children who spend two to three hours outdoors a day are “probably reasonably safe” from getting myopia. This could include time spent on the playground and walking to and from school.17
[i] Goh, C. L. (2012, April 26). Singapore ‘has lowest youth death rate’ among rich nations. The Straits Times; Patton, G. C., Coffey, C., Cappa, C., Currie, D., Riley, L., Gore, F., … Ferguson, J. (2012). Health of the world’s adolescents: A synthesis of internationally comparable data. The Lancet, 379(9826), 1665–1675.
[ii] Petersen, A. (2011, January 18). How much sleep do children and teenagers need? Grown-up problems start at bedtime. Retrieved February 10, 2012, from The Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com
RR18.1: Parental Expectations
Research has shown that parental involvement can produce positive or negative outcomes in terms of their children’s academic achievement. A meta-analysis of 77 studies, done in the US, published by the Harvard Family Research Project in 2005, consisting of 300,000 elementary and secondary students, found that parental educational expectations are a particularly important aspect of parental involvement.[i] Outcomes were affected by how much time parents spent reading to children, whether or not they tried to avoid encounters which produce frustration, (such as “exasperation interactions”), and, to a lesser extent, parents’ participation in school-related activities. Furthermore, parental involvement was associated with multiple measures of student achievement for the entire student population, as well as minority and low-income student populations. Overall, “the academic advantage for those children whose parents were highly involved in their education averaged about 0.5–0.6 of a standard deviation for overall educational outcomes, grades and academic achievement.”[ii]
At the secondary education level, high parental expectations continue to yield significant schooling benefits.[iii]In one study of high school seniors, parental expectations played the primary role in shaping the students’ academic achievement, attitude towards their work, and participation in extracurricular activities. In yet another study, researchers found that “parental expectations for achievement stand out as the most significant influences on [their] achievement growth, high school credits completed, and enrolment in extracurricular academic high school programs.”[iv] High parental educational expectations are also associated with better mathematics and reading scores, interest in school, academic self-discipline, future planning, and motivation for schoolwork.[v] In fact, in one highly specific 2006 study conducted with African-American families living in low income areas, researchers found that when parents taught that success originates from effort rather than surpassing peers, it had a strong positive effect on the math grades of eighth- and ninth-graders.[vi]
RR 18.2: Family Structure
The Heritage Foundation, a US-based research and educational institution, offered important insights about the changes in the American family households and their impact on the overall well-being of the children. They documented the decline in the number of American children growing up in households with both biological parents and the sharp increase in the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers.[vii]In 2008, they issued the following statement from sociologist Paul Amato:
Perhaps the most profound change in the American family over the past four decades has been the decline in the share of children growing up in households with biological parents.”[viii][The report went on to state] Studies have shown that children raised in intact families, i.e., with two continuously married parents, tend to fare better in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral areas than children living in other family forms.[ix]
In simple terms, this means that parents who tried to keep their marriage together “for the sake of the children”, as long as the home did not have repeated destructive conflict, did the right thing. We would add that if parents would go the extra mile and proactively work on their marriage for the sake of Love Connection, they and their children would be even better off. Thus, there is ample evidence to suggest that the structure of an intact family in which parents are married, and we would like to add happily married, has a positive impact on their children’s education.
In addition to improving education and job prospects, another important consequence of a healthy marriage is that parents will be able to put up a united front about what to expect from the child, thus ensuring consistency, as mentioned in the section on Reasonable Limits. It is better for children when they hear similar expectations from both parents. When parents are not united and convey different expectations, children may become confused. Eventually they will figure out which parent is the “weaker link” and either side with the parent that advocates their point of view or play the parents off of each other.
The mission of the Heritage Foundation is to perform timely, accurate research on key policy issues and market these findings to their primary audiences: members of Congress, key congressional staff members, policymakers in the executive branch, the nation’s news media, along with the academic and policy communities. In 2008, when they issued the statement above, they accompanied it with the following statistics:[x]
In 1960, 88% of all children lived with two parents, compared to 68% in 2007.[xi] In 1960, 5% of all children were born to unmarried mothers. That figure rose to 38.5% in 2006.[xii]Demographers have estimated that, overall, one child in two will spend some portion of his or her childhood in a single-parent family.[xiii] Not surprisingly, the changes in family structure over the last 40 years have affected the well-being of children and adolescents. In 2002, nearly seven million children between the ages of 12 and 18 repeated a grade.Based on this figure, Professor Amato estimates that if the share of two-parent families had remained unchanged between 1980 and 2002, some 300,000 fewer teens would have repeated a grade.[xiv]
Two-Parent Families Better for Education
It comes as no surprise that reading to young children aids their literary development. However, a study released by the US Census Bureau in 2008 showed that toddlers and preschool-age children in married-parent families are read to more often than peers in non-intact families.[xv] Another US study published in 2007 found that of 11,500 kindergarteners living with two parents or parent figures, accounting for parental education and income, children living with married parents achieved higher reading achievement test scores on average than peers living in cohabiting, or step-parent, families.[xvi]
The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development conducted a study of Early Child Care and Youth Development in the USA. From a sample of 1,015 children, the study found that first-graders whose mothers were married when they were born are less likely to engage in disruptive behaviour with peers and teachers than those whose mothers were single, or cohabiting, at the time of their birth.[xvii]
All findings below were taken from FamilyFacts.org. All studies were done in the US unless stated otherwise.[xviii]
- A study published in 2006 showed children between the ages of 3-12 who live in intact families have higher average math scores than peers whose mothers live in cohabiting relationships.[xix]
- The association between family structure and nine-year-olds’ science and math achievement appears to be cross-national. This study was published in 2003.[xx]
- Children between the ages of 7-10 who live in continuously intact families tend to score higher on reading tests than peers who have lived in other family structures. This research was published in 2001.[xxi]
- Children between the ages of 6-11 who live in intact families tend to be more engaged in their schoolwork than peers in other family structures. This study was published in 2004.[xxii]
- A study published in 1997 showed that eighth-graders from two-parent families perform better on average in math and science tests than peers from single-parent, or step-parent, families.[xxiii]
- The predominant family structure of a school’s student population appears to be linked to the individual science and math scores of eighth-graders, i.e., middle schools whose students come mostly from intact families as a rule have higher math and science scores. This work was published in 1997.[xxiv]
- Ninth-graders whose mothers were married when they were born are more likely to complete an algebra course than peers whose mothers were single when they were born. This study was published in 2006.[xxv]
- A study published in 2003 found that on average, compared with peers from intact families, adolescents living with a single mother or with mothers who were remarried or cohabiting experience more behavioural problems and lower levels of academic performance. Compared to children living in intact families, peers living in single-mother families, single-mother families with cohabiting partners, and married families with stepfathers were more likely to have been suspended or expelled from school; more likely to have engaged in delinquent activities in the past 12 months; more likely to have problems getting along with their teachers, doing homework, or paying attention in school; and more likely to have lower grade point averages.[xxvi]
RR 18.3: Asian Parents More Likely to Have Children with Dysfunctional Perfectionism
A 1997 Johns Hopkins study by Ablard and Parker found that:
Of Asian parents, 69% had performance-oriented goals compared to only 25% of Caucasian parents.
The researchers also discovered that children of performance-oriented parents were significantly more likely to fall into the dysfunctional perfectionism group than children of parents with learning-oriented goals. These children were likely to be concerned about the following three components: concern over mistakes, parental criticism, and doubts about action.[xxvii]
(Dysfunctional) Perfectionism has also been linked to the following:
- Depression that results from the perceived inability to reach excessive and externally-defined goals;[xxviii]
- Anorexia Nervosa;[xxix]
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder;[xxxi]
- Procrastination;[xxxiii] and
- Suicidal tendencies.[xxxiv]
Conditional Parenting Causes Schemas
In 2012, Assor and Tal, two Israeli experts in the field of motivation, published a study in the Journal of Adolescence. They set out to see the negative effect of perceived parental affection and esteem when the child meets the parents’ expectation in academic achievement situations. Their sample: Israeli 10th and 11th grade students (approximately 16 1/2 years old). What they found was that parents’ conditional positive regard, PCPR, as they called it, correlated with adolescents’ self-aggrandizement following success and self-derogation and shame following failure. The outcome was unhealthy behaviour as a result of becoming puffed up after “success” and filled with self-loathing after “failure”. The fluctuations between the two, self-aggrandizing and self-derogation, is a reflection of an unstable self-esteem, based primarily on the perceived view of the parents on the outcome of the adolescents’ achievements. The self-aggrandizing emerges as a response to the missing unconditional parental regard of “Connection and Acceptance” which was discussed at length previously. Although showing positive regard only when there is an achievement looks seemingly harmless, its effect can be extremely harmful, as this study has indicated.[xxxv]
According to the research above and in our opinion as counsellors, it makes sense that withholding affection conditional parenting would lead to self-aggrandizing and or self-derogation. In schema language, this is about the development of lifetraps such as:
- Entitlement – With this lifetrap, children have a grossly inflated view of themselves without sober judgement. This will sow the seeds of narcissistic behaviour (see lifetrap of “Entitlement” in Chapter Twelve).
- Unrelenting Standards – With this lifetrap, children overcompensate for their perceived failure or lack of successes by swinging to the other extreme and become workaholics and overachievers. This leaves little time for relaxation and drives them to be highly critical of themselves and others (see lifetrap of “Unrelenting Standards” in Chapter Sixteen).
- Defectiveness, Failure, Social Isolation – With these lifetraps, children have a deflated view of themselves and often listen to their inner voices which puts them down. Often these voices carry messages of their parents talking to them when they were young (see lifetraps in the domain of “Disconnection and Rejection” in Chapter Five).
RR 18.4: Conditional Parenting Is Damaging
A New York Times article published in September 2009 featured more of Deci’s research, including highlighting several studies done in 2004. Deci and his colleagues asked more than 100 college students whether the love they had received from their parents had seemed to depend on any of the following factors: whether they had succeeded in school; practised hard for sports; been considerate toward others; or suppressed emotions like anger and fear. It turned out that children who received conditional approval were indeed somewhat more likely to act as the parent wanted. However, the children’s compliance came at a steep price. First, these children tended to resent and dislike their parents. Second, they were apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to “strong internal pressure” than “a real sense of choice.” Moreover, their happiness after succeeding at something was usually short-lived, and they often felt guilty or ashamed.
In a companion study, Dr Assor and his colleagues interviewed mothers of grown children. With this generation, too, conditional parenting proved damaging. Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations, now felt less worthy as adults. Yet despite the negative effects, these mothers were more likely to turn around and use conditional affection with their own children.[xxxvi]Dysfunction is truly the gift that keeps on giving!
The article stated further that the same researchers published two replications and extensions of the original study. This time the subjects were Israeli adolescents. The study distinguished between giving more approval when children did what parents wanted and giving less approval when they did not.
The studies found that both positive and negative conditional parenting were harmful, but in slightly different ways. The positive kind sometimes succeeded in getting children to work harder on academic tasks, but at the cost of unhealthy feelings of “internal compulsion.” Negative conditional parenting didn’t even work in the short run; it just increased the teenagers’ negative feelings about their parents.[xxxvii]
What these and other studies tell us is that praising children for doing something right in an area that is not meaningful to them, although better than withholding affection or punishing, will still feel to the children like conditional parenting. All of these approaches will eventually prove to be counterproductive.[xxxviii]
RR 18.5: Motivating “Underachievers”
In a study entitled “Parenting Practices at the Millennium (PPM)” conducted in the United States, Dr. Dan Kindlon and his colleagues surveyed hundreds of children and their parents. They found that children (both boys and girls) who stated that they were not working to their intellectual potential were also the very ones who felt that their parents were pushing them too hard academically. And interestingly, the study also revealed that the opposite parent sex tended to exert the greatest influence on the children. Essentially, the only factor related to boys’ underachievement was their mothers’ pressure, while for girls, the most significant factor was the level of their fathers’ expectations.[xxxix]
[i] Jeynes, W. H. (2005, December). Parental involvement and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Family Involvement Research Digests. Retrieved May 30, 2012, from Harvard Family Research Project: http://www.hfrp.org
[iii] Toney, L. P., Kelley, M. L., & Lanclos, N. F. (2003). Self- and parental monitoring of homework in adolescents: Comparative effects on parents’ perceptions of homework behavior problems. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 25(1), 35–51; Zhan, M. (2006). Assets, parental expectations and involvement, and children’s educational performance.Children and Youth Services Review, 28, 961–975; Catsambis, S. (2001). Expanding knowledge of parental involvement in children’s secondary education: Connections with high school seniors’ academic success. Social Psychology of Education, 5(2), 149–177; Jeynes, W. H. (2003). A meta-analysis: The effects of parental involvement on minority children’s academic achievement. Education and Urban Society, 35(2), 202–218; Trusty, J. (2003). Modeling Mexican Americans’ educational expectations: Longitudinal effects of variables across adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Research, 18, 131–153.
[iv] Catsambis (2001), Expanding knowledge of parental involvement; Kreider, H., Caspe, M., Kennedy, S., & Weiss, H. (2007). Family involvement in middle and high school students’ education. Harvard Family Research Project, 1–12.
[v] Zhan (2006), Assets, parental expectations and involvement; Spera, C. (2006). Adolescents’ perceptions of parental goals, practices and styles in relation to their motivation and achievement. Journal of Early Adolescence, 26(4), 456–490; Marchant, G. J., Paulson, S. E., & Rothlisberg, B. A. (2001). Relations of middle school students’ perceptions of family and school contexts with academic achievement. Psychology in the Schools, 38, 505–519.
[vi] Gutman, L. M. (2006). How student and parent goal orientations and classroom goal structures influence the math achievement of African Americans during the high school transition. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 31, 44–63.
[vii] Kim, C. C. (2008). Academic success begins at home: How children can succeed in school. Backgrounder (Published by The Heritage Foundation), 2185, 1-12.
[viii] Amato, P. R. (2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social and emotional well-being of the next generation. The Future of Children, 15(2), 76.
[x] Kim (2008), Academic success begins at home.
[xi] U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Time Series. (2008). Living arrangements of children under 18 years old: 1960 to the present, Table CH-1.http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/hh-fam/ch1.xls
[xii] Ventura, S. J., & Bachrach, C. A. (2000). Nonmarital childbearing in the United States, 1940–99. National Vital Statistics Reports, 48(16), Table 1; Brady, E. H., Martin, J. A., & Ventura, S. J. (2007). Births: Preliminary data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports, 56(7), Table 1.
[xiii] Bumpass, L. L., & Sweet, J. A. (1989). Children’s experience in single-parent families: Implications of cohabitation and marital transition. Family Planning Perspectives, 21(6), 252–260.
[xiv] Amato (2005), The impact of family formation change, 88–89.
[xv] U.S. Census Bureau. (2008, September 1). A child’s day, 2004. Table D9. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from United States Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/well-being/2004_detailedtables/04tabD09.xls
[xvi] Artis, J. (2007). Maternal cohabitation and child well-being among kindergarten children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 222–236.
[xvii] Cavanagh, S. E., & Houston, A. C. (2006). Family instability and children’s early problem behavior. Social Forces, 85(1), 551–581.
[xviii] The Heritage Foundation. Strong beginnings: How families bolster early educatonal outcomes. Retrieved September 14, 2012, from FamilyFacts.org: http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/23/strong-beginnings-how-families-bolster-early-educational-outcomes
[xix] Hofferth, S. L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being, Demography, 43(1), 53–77.
[xx] Pong, S. L., & Hampden-Thompson, G. (2003). Family policies and children’s school achievement in single- versus two-parent families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(3), 681–699.
[xxi] Carlson, M. J., & Corcoran, M. E. (2001). Family structure and children’s behavioral and cognitive outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 779–792.
[xxii] Brown, S. L. (2004). Family structure and child well-being: The significance of parental cohabitation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(2), 351–367.
[xxiii] Pong, S. L. (1997). Family structure, school context, and eighth- grade math and reading achievement. Journal of Marriage and Family, 59(3), 734–746.
[xxv] Cavanagh, S. E., & Schiller, K. S. (2006). Marital transitions, parenting, and schooling: Exploring the link between family-structure history and adolescents’ academic status.Sociology of Education, 79(4), 329–354.
[xxvi] Manning, W., & Lamb, K. (2003). Adolescent well-being in cohabitating, married, and single-parent families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 876–893; The Heritage Foundation. Family and adolescent well-being. Retrieved September 14, 2012, from FamilyFacts.org: http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/34/family-and-adolescent-well-being
[xxvii] Ablard, K. E., & Parker, W. D. (1997). Parents’ achievement goals and perfectionism in their academically talented children. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 26(6), 651-667.
[xxviii] Blatt, S. J. (1995). The destructiveness of perfectionism: Implications for the treatment of depression. American Psychologist, 50, 1003–1020.
[xxix] Lask, B., & Bryant-Waugh, R. (1992). Early-onset anorexia nervosa and related eating disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(1), 281–300.
[xxx] Axtell, A. & Newton, B. J. (1993). An analysis of alderian life themes of bulimic women. Journal of Alderian Theory, Research and Practice 49(1), 58–67.
[xxxi] Rasmussen, S. A., & Eisen, J. L. (1992). The epidemiology and clinical features of obsessive compulsive disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 15(4), 743–758.
[xxxii] Brewerton, T. D., & George, M. S. (1993). Is migraine related to eating disorders?International Journal of Eating Disorders, 14, 75–79.
[xxxiii] Adderholt-Elliot, M. (1989). Perfectionism and underachievement. Gifted Child Today, 12, 19–21.
[xxxiv] Adkins, K. K., & Parker, W. D. (1996). Perfectionism and suicidal preoccupation.Journal of Personality, 64, 529–543.
[xxxv] Assor, A., & Tal, K. (2012). When parents’ affection depends on child’s achievement: Parental conditional positive regard, self-aggrandizement, shame and coping in adolescents, Journal of Adolescence, 35, 249–260; Roth, G., Assor, A., Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The emotional and academic consequences of parental conditional regard: comparing conditional positive regard, conditional negative regard, and autonomy support as parenting practices. Developmental Psychology, 45, 1119–1142.
[xxxvi] Assor, A., Roth, G., Israeli, M., Freed., & Deci, E. (2007). Parental conditional positive regard: Another harmful type of parental control. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), (Boston USA).
[xxxvii] Roth, Assor, Niemiec, Ryan & Deci (2009), The emotional and academic consequences of parental conditional regard.
[xxxviii] Kohn, A. (2009, September 14). When a parent’s ‘I love you’ means ‘Do as I say”. Retrieved May 31, 2012, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com
[xxxix] Kindlon, D. (2001). Too much of a good thing: Raising children of character in an indulgent age. New York: Hyperion. 127.
RR19.1: Parents as Role Models
In their book The Altruistic Personality, Samuel and Pearl Oliner tell how they interviewed 406 persons who rescued Jews from the Nazi Holocaust and 126 people who lived in the same parts of Nazi-occupied Europe but did not get involved in helping the Jews.They found that of the people they interviewed, 52% helped because of the moral code of the social group and they responded to an authority figure of that group. Of this group, 19% of them had a strong internal socialized norm so that their helping action appeared to be independent of any authority, and 37% had an empathic orientation a response of the heart to people in pain.
The rescuers were much more likely than non-rescuers to say that:
- Their parents modeled caring values. In contrast, parents of non-rescuers were more likely to have emphasized economic values, such as getting a good job. (This should make us really consider what kind of conversation we have around the dinner table!)
- Non-rescuers also said that their parents were more likely to use harsh punishments instead. Rescuers instead cited that their parents would occasionally punish them but more often they would teach and explain things.
- Rescuers’ parents also were much more likely to explicitly teach a positive attitude and tolerance towards people of different culture and religion.[i]
RR19.2: Forgiveness Is Good for Health
- A recent study done by Paleari, Regalia and Fincham has shown that forgiveness is directly related to marital quality. The higher the level of forgiveness, the higher the marital quality.[ii]
- Fincham also concluded that forgiveness and marital satisfaction were related. He went on to show that forgiveness affects the overall behaviour of a spouse towards the partner, and that it is not independent of marital satisfaction.[iii]
- Orathinkal and Vansteenwegen did studies among married couples in Belgium and concluded that forgiveness and marital satisfaction are linked.[iv]
- Unforgiveness is shown to correlate highly with anger, which in turn has been linked to decreased immune functioning.[v]
- Activity in the brain during unforgivenesss is consistent with brain activity during stress, anger and aggression. There may even be a neurophysical basis to label unforgiveness as a separate emotion.[vi]
- Seybold et al. examined physical markers in patients at a Veteran Administration Medical Centre and found that people who were chronically unforgiving had blood chemistry assays that were similar to those of people under stress.[vii]
- Testing blood pressure and heart rates, Lawler et al. found that high trait forgivers showed the least cardiovascular reactivity and best recovery patterns, whereas low trait forgivers in unforgiving states showed the highest levels of reactivity and poorest recovery patterns.[viii] Unforgiving people put their health in harm’s way by inducing stress and impairing heart recovery each time they are triggered by thoughts of unforgiveness. On the other hand, forgiving people quell these responses by nurturing forgiving thoughts.
- Lack of forgiveness has shown a strong correlation with anxiety in developmentally appropriate contexts of hurt (e.g., college students hurt by friends or romantic partners; parents hurt by children; spouses hurt by infidelity).[ix]
- On the other hand, there is a positive correlation between forgiveness and measures of well-being.[x] In other words, the more forgiving a person is, the less anxiety, depression and/or anger will remain, even after experiencing a great deal of hurt. When we refuse to forgive, the stakes are high. It affects our mental health, our marriage relationships and most importantly, our salvation. When we do not forgive parties who have hurt us, we are not “punishing” them, rather, we are actually putting ourselves in harm’s way.
RR19.3: Older and Younger Children View Forgiveness Differently
The findings of Dr. Enright and his colleagues are as follows:[xi]
- Children ages 9-10 equate forgiveness with revenge. In other words, children at this age would not naturally want to forgive an offender until he were punished.
- Young children also desire an apology before they are able to forgive. As mentioned in the definition of forgiveness, this should not be a requirement for adults; but for youngsters, this matters. Even for adults, apologising paves the way for reconciliation. Parents who apologise for mistakes that were their fault (both in front of and to their children) are not only getting reconciled, but also being good role models for their children. I have heard many adults say that their parents have never apologised to them. Dr. Enright found that children whose parents modelled forgiveness ended up practicing it themselves.
- When it comes to who they should forgive, adolescents tend to listen to trusted authorities, such as a teacher. It is important for parents and teachers to collaborate and send a consistent message to their children on this subject. Ideally, teachers and parents should discuss and be clear about their understanding of forgiveness. When there is a clear, consistent message about the value of forgiveness, children will be more likely to internalise it and make it part of their belief system.
- Older adolescents usually focus on what will happen after the forgiveness is extended, such as whether or not it will lead to restored relationships.
- Some adults take a loving and unconditional view of forgiveness, in that when forgiveness is offered, they have no resentment towards the offender, even though they disapprove of his actions. They separated the offense (the behaviour of the offender) from the offender himself, making forgiveness easier.
A study that was originally conducted in 1982 evolved into a book published in 1987 that describes why Catholic schools in the 80s in the US outperformed public schools in several areas such as having a higher percentage of students that graduated, enrolled into college and continued college once they were enrolled.[xii] In its day it was probably the most comprehensive research done on American high schools. The authors of this work, Coleman and Hoffer, attribute these successes to the kind of communities that these Catholic schools built. In particular, they distinguished between two kinds of communities, value communities and functional communities.[xiii]
A value community in a school is formed as a result of parents choosing a particular school because of a shared value that a particular school has to offer, such as a high passing rate or a high number of students entering top universities. A functionalcommunity in a school has a common sense of values and shared relationships among those who choose a particular school. In other words, parents and students interact at places of worship, at school, and in each other’s homes when they visit one another. Such interaction takes place between parents of a student’s friend and that student himself. So the community is functional and relationships take place on multiple levels. This level of community was one of the main causes of the lower dropout rates in Catholic schools versus other schools that had less effective value communities.
Functional Communities Have Proven Outcomes
In 1982 a study called High School Achievement was published.[xiv] In its day it was probably the most comprehensive research done on American high schools. Its crucial findings were that students in private Catholic high schools consistently outperformed public school students in several areas such as students from Catholic schools were more likely to graduate, more likely to enrol in college, and more likely to continue their college studies once enrolled. This stirred the curiosity of many. These positive outcomes were partly attributed to the kind of community that was built in these Catholic schools. It was the first study that showed that school dropout rates were related to the aspect of community. Two of the original authors, James Coleman and Thomas Hoffer, detailed and revised their original work and wrote a book, which was published in 1987, entitled, Public and Private High Schools: The Impact of Communities.[xv] This book describes the kind offunctional communities among the parents and students of different families that provided support and brought about the positive outcomes in the students of Catholic schools. This stood in contrast with the less effective value communities that were prevalent in the other private high schools.
RR19.5: What Kind of Mentoring Works?
Rhodes and DuBois published an article on mentoring in 2006 for the US based Society for Research in Child Development. They found that mentoring relationships were helpful if they had the following components:[xvi]
- Connection – Being close is the foundation of the youth-mentor relationships. In fact, in line with one of the main themes of this book, studies are showing that close bonds between the mentor and the youth are likely to promote positive outcomes. The authors noted that a crucial condition for the mentoring relationship to be effective was for the two people involved to feel connected. Rhodes and DuBois said that there should be a sense of mutual trust between the mentor and mentee; they should like and understand each other, and treat each other with respect. The basic connection between mentor and youth is so powerful that ethnic and or racial background of the mentor and youth did not appear as a significant factor. (Our own experience in a multiethnic church community has shown that to be the case over and over again—the connection between people transcends culture, race and ethnicity.)
- Skills – When a mentor possesses specific skills and knowledge in helping youth, there is a greater chance that an effective mentoring process will take place. (We feel that mentors should receive initial and on-going training in order to be equipped. For Christian mentors, this would involve biblical discipleship training as well as listening and other leadership skills.)
- Role-modelling – The mentor needs to be a respectable role model. (This is one of the reasons we like to use parents as mentors—they are usually older Christians and not as likely to leave the youngster in the lurch.)
- Unselfishness – The mentor needs to work towards helping the youth, as opposed to serving his own interests. (We believe that mentors should be monitored by seasoned leaders to keep motives in check.)
- Goals – Mentor and youth should set goals for the relationship and for the mentee that are mutually agreed upon (not just decided by the mentor.)
- Consistency – Studies have shown that regular contact has been linked to positive youth outcomes, as this provides emotional support, feelings of security and attachment in interpersonal relationships. (We recommend a weekly one-on-one time, or at least every two weeks, and every other day by social media just to keep in touch.)
- Duration – According to this research, the benefits of mentoring appear to accrue with time. They found that positive effects became stronger, provided the relationship remained intact. It was also highlighted that a mentoring relationship lasting less than six months caused a decline in functioning. (In other words, kids who were set up with a mentor relationship that did not even last six months presented as being in a worse position than they were before the mentoring relationship began, and worse off than kids who were not in mentoring relationships at all! This underscores the importance of mentors being willing to persevere, and, unless harm is being caused, the relationship should not be changed quickly.)
Group Settings – The final component of youth mentoring that showed up as being helpful is mentoring in groups. Group mentoring provides motivation from peers and offers alternative solutions. It also improves the relationships among peers. This interaction, along with constructive feedback from the mentor, serves as an upward call and can be useful in inspiring mentees to make positive changes in their lives. (The regularity of group and one-on-one relationships should be balanced and one should not be done at the expense of the other; both should take place. We recommend a group setting of at least once a month. Again there is no “one size that fits all”; the schedule of both mentors and youth should be taken into account when this is planned.)
[i] Baumrind, D., Berkowitz, M. W., Lickona, T., Nucci, L. P., & Watson, M. (2008).Parenting for character: Five experts, five practices. (D. Streight, Ed.) Oregon: CSEE. 47.
[ii] Paleari, F. G., Regalia, C., & Fincham, F. D. (2005). Marital quality, forgiveness, empathy, and rumination: a Longitudinal analysis. Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality, 3, 368-378.
[iii] Fincham, F. D. (2000). The kiss of porcupines: From attributing responsibility for forgiving. Personal Relationships, 9, 239-251.
[iv] Orathinkal, J., & Vansteenwegen, A. (2006). The effect of forgiveness on marital satisfaction in relationship to marital stability. Contemporary Family Therapy, 28, 251-260.
[v] Herbert, T., & Cohen, S. (1993). Stress and immunity in humans: a meta-analytical review. Psychosomatic Medicine, 55, 364-379.
[vi] Pietrini, P., Guazzelli, M., Basso, G., Jaffe, K., & Grafman, J. (2000). Neural correlates of imaginal aggressive behavior assessed by positron emission tomography in healthy subjects. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 1772-1781.
[vii] Seybold, K. S., Hill, P. C., Neumann, J. K., & Chi, D. S. (2001). Physiological and psychological correlates of forgiveness. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 20, 250-259.
[viii] Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. Y., Piferi, R. A., Billington, E., Jobe, R., Edmondson, K., Jones, W. H. (2003). A change of heart: cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 26, 373-393.
[ix] Fitzgibbons, R. P. (1986). The cognitive and emotive use of forgiveness in the treatment of anger. Psychotherapy, 23, 629-633; Park, Y., & Enright, R. D. (1997). The development of forgiveness in the context of adolescent friendship conflict in Korea. Journal of Adolescence, 20, 393-402; Subkoviak, M. J., Enright, R. D., & Wu, C. (1992, October).Current developments related to measuring forgiveness. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.; Subkoviak, M. J., Enright, R. D., Wu, C., Gassin, E. A., Freedman, S., Olson, L. M., & Sarinopoulos, I. C. (1995). Measuring interpersonal forgiveness in late adolescence and middle adulthood.Journal of Adolescence, 18, 641-655.
[x] Coyle, C. T., & Enright, R. D. (1997). Forgiveness intervention with postabortion men.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 1042-1046; Sarinopoulos, I. C. (1996).Forgiveness in adolescence and middle adulthood: Comparing the Enright Forgiveness Inventory with Wade Forgiveness Scale. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
[xi] Enright, R. D. (2001). Forgiveness is a choice: A step-by-step process for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington: APA LifeTools. 220.
[xii] Coleman, J. S., Hoffer, T., & Kilgore, S. (1982). High school achievement: public, Catholic, and private schools compared. New York: Basic Books Inc.; Coleman, J. S., & Hoffer, T. (1987). Public and private high schools: The impact of communities. New York: Basic Books Inc.
[xiii] Coleman & Hoffer (1987), Public and private high schools.
[xiv] Coleman, J. S., Hoffer, T., & Kilgore, S. (1982). High school achievement: public, Catholic, and private schools compared. New York: Basic Books Inc.
[xv] Coleman & Hoffer (1987), Public and private high schools.
[xvi] Rhodes, J. E., & DuBois, D. L. (2006). Understanding and facilitating the youth mentoring movement. Social Policy Report: Giving Child and Youth Development Knowledge Away, 20(3), 1-19.