Credit: baysidejournal.com

Parents who pressure children to have good grades or over achieve risk psychologically scarring their offspring. The researchers at the National University of Singapore say intrusive parenting — a behaviour characterized as manipulating, controlling and demanding — leads to maladaptive perfectionism. Children then become overly critical of themselves, which can lead to feeling depressed and anxious all the time.

When you’re never good enough

For five years, Ryan Hong and colleagues at the National University of Singapore followed 7-year-olds from 10 primary schools in Singapore. Their interest was to gauge to two aspects of perfectionism: self-criticalness perfectionism (the concern with one’s own mistakes or imperfections); and socially prescribed perfectionism (the concern of not meeting somebody else’s expectations). For each child, one of the parents was also assessed.

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To gauge their attitude towards perfectionism, the researchers invited the children to play a game which involved solving a puzzle in given amount of time. Parents were also in the same room and were told they could assist their children whenever they felt necessary. Some parents left their children on their own, even if at times that meant they would fail to complete the puzzle. On the other hand, intrusive parents would go as far as retracting a move made by their children.

The researchers found those parents who were very intrusive and had high expectations of their children’s academic performance could make their children very self-critical. Of the 263 children involved in the study, 60 percent had high self-criticalness, while 78 percent had high socially prescribed perfectionism, as reported in the Journal of Personality. This is very telling when we keep in mind that Singapore is a very competitive society and many parents are very pushy with their children.

While they think they’re doing their children a favor, preparing them for a very competitive life, helicopter parents might be doing more harm than good. Maladaptive perfectionism causes children to become fearful of making mistakes, less inclined to admit failure and seek help.

“Over time, such behavior, known as maladaptive perfectionism, may be detrimental to the child’s well-being as it increases the risk of the child developing symptoms of depression, anxiety and even suicide in very serious cases,” Hong said.