The Damaging Effects of Inappropriate
Control on our Children
Kah Ying Choo
In the richest country in
the world, children have lost their
instinctive passion for learning and life itself. The most
desperate students resort to violence to vent their frustration (St.
George & Thomas, 1997). The “successful” students thrive in the
school system and grow up to become professionals such as doctors.
Yet recent research indicates that doctor-induced deaths are the third
leading case of death in the U.S. (Starfield, 2000)
The underlying causes of these startling facts are
no mystery to the scientific community. In recent
years, medical and psychological research studies have demonstrated that
the current practices of social institutions need to be altered in order
to eradicate the mounting social evils that have emerged in our society.
Intrusive parents who impose rigid control over the lives of their
children represent the first institution (family) that needs to change
its methods and practices.
In recent years, various studies have
established a relationship between excessive parental
psychological control and their children’s low "self-esteem (Litovsky &
Dusek, 1985), self-worth (Garber et al., 1997), self-confidence (Conger
et al., 1997), self-reliance (Shulman et al., 1993), self-expression
(Bronstein, 1994), and psychological maturity (Steinberg et al., 1989)”
(qtd. in Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 28). These negative
self-perceptions have also developed into clinical disorders such as
“depression (Barber, 1996, 1999; Bean et al., 2001), suicidal ideation
(Comstock, 1994) and eating disorders (Jensen, 1997)” (qtd. in Barber &
Harmon, 2002, p. 33).
The results of these studies are also verified by a research study on
children’s perceptions of their mother’s controlling behavior.
Based on the self-reports of children aged between six and over nine
years of age and reports from mothers and teachers, the researchers
found that children are extremely prone to experience negative emotions
and act out their frustration in schools when they are subject to their
mothers’ psychological control (Morris et al., 2002, pp. 132-42).
Schools have also played a major role in
destroying children’s identity and instinctive passion for
learning. With a curriculum that focuses solely on intellectual
development, traditional schools have failed to promote social and
emotional development. The social dimension of many students is
neglected and suppressed as students are compelled to work in solitude
and in direct competition with their peers, with each regarding the
other as foe, instead of friend. A study was conducted to assess
the impact of an elementary school curriculum that is dedicated to the
reduction of aggression and the promotion of social behavior. With
the completion of the curriculum, 30 fewer acts of negative physical
behavior and 800 more acts of neutral or social behavior occurred per
class every day on average in a classroom of 22 students within a
six-hour period (Rosenberg, Powell, & Hammond, 1997). The success
of this study not only highlights the deficiencies in a curriculum that
emphasizes the academics, but also celebration the natural inclination
of children to acquire positive social behavior in a conducive
The abolition of recesses in school districts
all over the country in order to cope with increasing
academic demands is also symptomatic of the overemphasis on the
development of the mind instead of the whole body. According to child
development experts, recess activities serve a vital function in the
comprehensive development of children. During recess, children
have the opportunity to make decisions about their choice of activity,
engage in pretend play with peers and participate in physical
activities. Based on the findings of her classroom studies, Olga
Jarrett, a professor of early child education, asserts that children
require physical activity during the school day in order to excel
academically and socially. Her taped observations indicated that
children who were deprived of recess tended to lose their concentration
and engage in distracting activities for 15 to 20 minutes (“Schools
Taking Breaks from Recess,” 2001).
What is even more disconcerting is that
the classroom experiences of young children exert a significant impact
on their ability to function over time. In a study that documented
the development 179 children from kindergarten through eighth grade,
Harmre and Pianta (2001) found that one of the strongest predictors of
the students’ academic and social behavior was their relationship with
their kindergarten teacher. According to the results of this
study, students who possessed a negative relationship with their
kindergarten teacher experienced both academic and behavioral problems
in lower elementary grades.
The poor social behavior of these
students persisted into adolescence,
in the case of boys who were even more liable to act out than girls.
The findings of this study are significant in illuminating the
importance of social components of schooling. Recent observational
studies show that teachers who are sensitive to the distinctive needs of
their students will be able to build positive relationships with them.
Essentially, children can only become well-integrated individuals when
their intellectual, social and emotional dimensions are developed in a
positive classroom environment (Meyer, Waldrop, Hastings, & Linn, 1993).
Our society, in general, is not immune from the destructive effects
wrought by controlling parents and schools on our children.
Currently, the American public is suffering from this tragic legacy:
Each year, 225,000 die as a result of their medical treatments. In
spite of the sophisticated drugs, state-of-the-art technology and
professional training of doctors and nurses, the American medical system
has failed to provide a decent standard of health care for the public.
In contrast, the Japanese medical system that involves family members in
caring for patients has yielded considerably better results. The
Japanese medical system’s recognition of the importance of human caring
is in stark contrast to our dependence on drugs, surgery and technology.
As a society, we are responsible for cultivating doctors who have
suspended their humanity in deference to machines and drugs.
While the images of controlling parents,
kindergarten children deprived of recesses and a
creative learning environment, and patients dying in the hands of
doctors appear to be unconnected, they are inextricably interwoven
together. Until we address the causes of the problem, we will
continue to suffer from the terrible consequences of our failure to
change the system and save our children.
Barber, B. K., & Harmon, E. L. (2002).
Violating the self: Parental psychological control of children and
adolescents. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting (pp. 15-52).
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001, March). Early teacher-child
relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through
eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625-638.
Meyer, L. A., Waldrop, J. L., Hastings, C. N., & Linn, R. L. (1993).
Effects of ability and settings on kindergarten’s reading performance.
Journal of Educational Research, 86, 142-160.
Rosenberg, M. L., Powell, K. E., & Hammond, W. R. (1997). Applying
science to violence prevention. Journal of American Medical Association,
Schools taking breaks from recess. (2001, May 15). Retrieved
January 29, 2002, from CNN.com Web site:
Sheffield, A. S. et al. (2002). Measuring children’s perceptions
of psychological control: Developmental and conceptual
considerations. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting (pp.
125-160). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
St. George, D. M., & Thomas, S. B. (1997). Perceived risk of
fighting and actual fighting behavior among middle school Students.
Journal of School Health, 67(5), 178-181.
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