Rochelle Hentges, a postdoctoral psychology fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, claims harsh parenting can impact a child's educational achievement in the long term.
The study in the journal 'Child Development' shows how being too firm, including: yelling, hitting and using other verbal and physical threats as punishment, could negatively impact children's ability to succeed in high school and college/University.
The study which was done by her and her colleagues, involved following more than 1,500 students in a large county in Maryland over a nine-year period, from seventh grade until three years after the students were expected to graduate high school. Students were given a questionnaire and were asked whether their parents yelled at them, hit them and/or shoved them to get a sense of how much physical or verbal aggression they experienced. They were also asked about their own relationships with peers, sexual activity and delinquency such as shoplifting.
The children who said in the seventh grade that they experienced harsh parenting were more likely to say in the ninth grade that their peers were more important to them than following their parents' rules or doing homework. These kids were more likely to engage in risky behaviors by the 11th grade, which included more sexual activity for girls and hitting and stealing for boys. These students were then more likely to drop out of high school or college.
"If you're in this harsh or unstable environment, you're kind of set up to look for immediate rewards instead of focusing on the long-term outcomes," said Hentges. "The premise of that is like in our ancestral environment, if you had this unstable or high-danger environment, it wouldn't make sense for you to put a lot of time and resources toward something that might be in the future if you're not going to live to see that future. Harsher parenting also leads children to have less attachment to their parents and come to overly rely on their peers."
"When you have this type of parenting, from a very early age you are basically kind of getting this message that you are not loved, and you're getting this rejection message, so it would make sense to try and find that acceptance elsewhere," she said. "So that's kind of why you go toward these peers and you're trying to get validation from them, and if that means that you're going to engage in behaviors that maybe you wouldn't do normally just to get that validation, then you're going to do that."
"For people who say that we're not strict enough, I think that it's very important to recognize there's a difference between being harsh and being firm," Hentges said. "Rules are great, but they need to be followed up with in a warm and supportive environment. Permissive parenting where there are no rules is bad as well."
There are some limitations to the study. The research is based on reports only from students, not teachers or parents, and considered students from one geographic area. Because it's a longitudinal study that followed young people for many years, it was a challenge to track them, especially as they got older.
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