Kids of ‘harsh’ parents do worse at school

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)

Hitting and yelling at kids to make them conform may get an immediate reaction, but the psychological effects result in long-term impacts on their education, according to new research.

A longitudinal study of nearly 1500 students found “harsh” parenting led to lower educational achievement.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh followed the students for nine years and found those with parents who yelled, threatened and got physical had lower educational achievements at age 21 than those with “kinder” parents.

The study published in journal Child Development showed students parented harshly in seventh grade were more likely in ninth grade to say their peer group were more important than following parents’ rules.

This in turn led them to engage in more risky behaviours in Year 11. The girls were more likely to engage in sexual behaviour and the boys were more likely to be physically aggressive and steal.

These behaviours led to low education achievement three years after high school because they were more likely to quit college.

Even after factoring in racial, socioeconomic and geographic background, parenting was still shown to influence educational outcome.

Australian parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson says the finding isn’t surprising and reinforces what previous research has discovered.

“For some kids school isn’t a place of learning it’s just a place to get away from what they’re afraid of,” he said.

Dr Coulson says children who don’t feel supported or safe at home and secure with the adults in their lives gravitate to peers who do accept them.

“But unfortunately they’re more likely to be accepted by peers from similar families and usually children in these situations will look for ways to express their identity and dissatisfaction with the world by engaging in behaviours that would reinforce their parents opinions of them.”

Basically, if a child is treated badly by their parents, the more likely they’ll act up and do stuff that makes the parent continue to treat them badly.

Parenting is really hard work and children will push boundaries but the results of a kinder approach, as the study shows, are far more favourable, said Dr Coulson.

“Children flourish when we have limits but when we become punitive, coercive, manipulative or controlling children will often see that as harsh then we are going to get less positive outcomes,” said Dr Coulson.

He advises setting limits with children not for them, and providing an explanation is critical.

“‘Because I said so’ is not a clear explanation and it doesn’t teach children anything,” Dr Coulson said.


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