As reported in The Australian newspaper recently, new research shows that nearly half of all students are “very stressed” (up from 28% in 2003) and the proportion of those “feeling confident when doing difficult schoolwork” has fallen from 76% to 59%. Nearly 40% admitted to “giving up” when they were bored or did not understand what was happening in the classroom, while 70% of students said they could do better at school. In addition, 17% of students had “low” or “emerging” social and emotional wellbeing, which is associated with being disconnected from family or peers; lacking social values and skills; and having negative emotions, feelings and behaviours. The overall picture that emerges is that of students who are more stressed, less confident and underachieving in the classroom.
The Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia has provided the latest Research Summary eBrief on 26 June, 2018.
The research, conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in conjunction with Professor Michael Bernard, an educational psychologist from Melbourne University, also highlights a lack of resilience among an increasing number of young people. Commenting on the study of 137,408 students from 701 primary and secondary schools, Professor Bernard expressed his concern about the growing trend towards helicopter parenting, telling The Australian that: We see students who are unable to stand up to pressure — be it a NAPLAN test or simply schools expecting lots more of them — because parents tend to helicopter. Over-involved, very concerned parents are trying to do everything for their children, taking on too much responsibility on their behalf, and as a result kids lack confidence.
“In contrast,” writes Rebecca Urban in The Australian, the study found that “those with highly developed social and emotional wellbeing tended to have parents who were authoritative and interested, and teachers who were effective and caring”. These students were “positively engaged with their peers and extra-curricular activities, were effective at managing worry, were aware of their emotions and were self-accepting”.
The results of the Australian research will come as no surprise to the authors of a recent American study which has found that toddlers with overcontrolling helicopter parents are less able to control their emotions and impulses as they get older, leading to behavioural problems at school. Children were assessed at the ages of two, five and ten, with the results showing that controlling behaviour by mothers was linked to children having less control over their emotions and impulses at age five, and worse social skills, more emotional problems, poorer academic performance, and a poorer attitude to school at age ten.
Commenting on the study in The Guardian newspaper, evelopmental psychologist Professor Dieter Wolker of the University of Warwick said that while over-controlling parenting is usually done with the best of intentions, taking away the opportunity for children to learn how to self-regulate could be considered “a form of abusiveness”.
As for the authors of the American study themselves, Nicole Berry and her colleagues conclude in their Developmental Psychology article that children who possess greater emotional regulation and inhibitory control at age five demonstrate fewer emotional problems, better social skills and greater academic productivity at age ten.
In order to possess this greater emotional regulation and inhibitory control at age five, toddlers must learn to handle challenging situations and develop self-regulation on their own. As the researchers note, toddlerhood is a difficult time as their greater desire for independence often puts toddlers in “situations of increasing emotional challenge and complexity”. The danger, however, is that:
If parents try to exert too much control over these situations and step in before children try to
handle the challenge independently, or physically keep children from these frustrating or
fearful contexts all together, they may, unintentionally, hinder the development of children’s
independent self-regulatory abilities.
Using the example of children fighting over toys, the study authors write that if an overcontrolling parent removes their child from the situation, rather than letting them learn that they need to control their emotions and behaviour to successfully interact with their peers, then they “may not develop the skills to navigate that situation in socially appropriate ways when a parent is not present”.
The American study also provides some evidence that self-regulatory skills predict how well children are perceived outside their family, including by teachers. Children with effective selfregulatory skills are more cooperative and engaging in the classroom (i.e., they are less likely to distract from classroom activities or speak out of turn) which impacts on how teachers interact with children. When teachers give students more opportunities and invest more time in them, children become more academically productive, are more optimistic about school, are more confident, and have better overall psychological health.
Thinking back to Professor Michael Bernard’s warning about ACER’s study of 137,000 Australian primary and secondary school students showing that an increasing number “lack confidence” and are “unable to stand up to pressure”, it is hardly surprising that the American researchers came to the conclusion that “by the end of early childhood, children with overcontrolling parents may be less able to manage the challenging demands that come with entering and navigating through the school environment, leading to greater maladjustment across social, emotional, and academic domains”.
Berry, N., Dollar, J., Calkins, S., Keane, S., & Shanahan, L. (2018, June 18). Childhood selfregulation as a mechanism through which early overcontrolling parenting is associated with adjustment in preadolescence. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1037/dev0000536
Davis, N. (2018, June 18). Leave those kids alone: ‘Helicopter parenting’ linked to behavioural problems. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jun/18/overcontrolled-toddlers-grow-up-unable-to-cope
Urban, R. (2018, June 15). Students’ stress levels up and confidence down. The Australian. Retrieved from: https://www.theaustralian.com.au