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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 environment.

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,
especially 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, 277(20), 1641-2.

Schools taking breaks from recess.  (2001, May 15).  Retrieved January 29, 2002, from CNN.com Web site: http://www.cnn.com/2001/fyi/teachers.ednews/05/15recess.ap/

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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