Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 28, 2001

Pushing kids to excel often backfires, study finds

Parents who push their children to excel in school and extra curricular activities may be harming their kids’ ego and academic performance, according to a study by a University of Guelph professor.

“Our findings show that parental pressure is associated with lower self-esteem, a lower sense of assertiveness and less competence in school skills,” said Prof. Gerald Adams of the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition. By comparison, children who are under less parental pressure tend to do better in school, get along with their peers, follow rules and handle frustration, the study found.

“Parents usually have good intentions,” said Adams, who is renowned for his work on adolescent identity development. “They might think they are helping their child by using pressure when the child is showing problems in school, but it often backfires. If parents have high expectations of their child doing well, the child will have those same expectations. She or he will start to think that no matter how well they do, mom and dad expect more.”

Adams, who has written a series of books that examine the effect parenting styles have on childhood and adolescent behaviour, originally set out to discover what factors determine how well children follow rules in school and get along with classmates. But during his study of more than 300 children in grades 4 and 7, he found that parent-child interactions are the greatest predictor of rule compliance and sociability. So he expanded the research to also examine the effect of parental pressure on children’s school and social lives. “We have learned that there are a lot of characteristics that can predict how well a child will do in school, regardless of the teachers they have,” he said.

Other findings include:

  • The negative effects of parental pressure only increase as a child gets older.

  • Children under the most parental pressure tend to come from households where control is a central focus. Children who are supported rather than pressured by their parents tend to live in homes where cohesiveness is paramount.

  • Parental pressure often determines how well children get along with others. Pressure lowers a child’s ego strength, and children with higher egos tend to extend themselves and have a better ability to handle the frustrations associated with frequent interactions with others. Self-esteem is also often an indicator of how well a child does in school.

  • Many parents and school boards are urging greater family involvement in children’s school activities. Schools should be ready to provide guidance and parental training on the results of negative pressure, and offer guidance on how to best help children regarding school activities.

“Our research shows that parental support has positive influences on a child’s school activities, but there is a very fine line between parental support and parental pressure,” Adams said. “But children are capable of deciphering between the two, and they are most influenced by positive things.”

Prof. Gerald Adams
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 3967

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