Desire to Please Parents Motivates Kids at
THURSDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- Children in both China and
the United States who want to please their parents tend to do
better at school, new research finds.
Yet in the United States, American kids' drive to please their
parents declines during early adolescence, while in China feelings
of obligation toward parents stay strong and even grow as kids hit
their teenage years.
Researchers attribute that to cultural differences -- Americans
view adolescence as a time in which teens assert their
individualism, while the Chinese believe in "filial piety," or the
idea that it's a child's responsibility to bring honor to their
families and repay their parents for the sacrifices they made in
That means for Chinese kids, becoming a teenager doesn't mean
rebelling or pulling away from family life, but becoming a more
responsible member of it.
During early adolescence, "U.S. children feel less obligated
toward their parents, and less concerned with showing their parents
they are responsible members of the family," said study author Eva
Pomerantz, a professor in the department of psychology at
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "You don't see that
decline in Chinese kids."
The study is published in the current issue of
Pomerantz and her colleagues in China compared the attitudes of
825 middle-schoolers aged 11 to 14 in suburban Chicago and China.
Students were asked over the course of two years about school and
their parents, including how much they trusted their parents, how
much time they felt they should spend at home with their parents,
and how safe they felt communicating with them.
In addition, children were asked about their motivation to do
well at school, including how important it was to them to please
their parents or show them they're responsible.
Researchers also charted the grades the students received in
In both countries, kids who felt connected to their parents, who
felt an obligation to their parents and who wanted to please them
tended to do better academically.
"Kids who have these high-quality relationships, who feel they can trust their parents and who feel close to their parents, also feel more responsible for their parents," Pomerantz said. "This sense of connection and closeness plays a role in academic achievement."
Also in both countries, researchers found kids tended to become
less interested in school over time.
Yet, only for the American kids did the declining interest
translate into lower academic engagement, Pomerantz noted.
"Like American children, Chinese children are also losing interest in school, but they keep up their engagement," Pomerantz said. "They don't find school to be super enjoyable as they used to when they were younger, but they are still putting in the effort and the time into studying, making sure they are paying attention, memorizing their school work."
So what's an American parent to do?
In China, the sense of responsibility to the family comes not
only from the parents, but the wider culture, so teaching filial
piety probably won't work, she said.
Even so, U.S. parents can set high expectations and make sure
kids know what those expectations are, she said.
That doesn't mean being your child's best buddy, but being there
to teach, guide and set limits as needed.
"The more that parents invest in their children and have positive relationships with them, the more they are creating this sense of reciprocity," she said. "We need to communicate from very early on to our children, 'You are a responsible member of the family. I'm willing to do things for you, but it's not just about me serving you'."
Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychology at
Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said it's not surprising
that Chinese students, with their greater sense of filial piety,
may do better academically.
But adolescence is also a time for asserting independence and
developing one's own identity, including the ability to make
decisions, to learn from mistakes and to learn the autonomy that's
necessary to be a successful adult, said Kraus, a spokesman for the
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Putting kids in overly rigid environments, where the desire to
achieve is imposed by parents rather than coming from their own
internal drive, can be counterproductive in the long-term, he
"In one word, balance," Kraus said. "The key part of parenting is not to have such control over children that they aren't able to have a sense of control and identity, but at the same time to offer them the structure and guidance they need."
A second study in the same journal found that teens turn to
their peers in deciding how much autonomy from their parents is
appropriate, even as they overestimate how much personal freedom
their friends actually have.
Ohio State University researchers conducted two studies to come
to this conclusion. First, they looked at more than 500 students in
6th through 9th grades and in 12th grade. Then, they looked at the
sixth and seventh graders a year later. Interestingly, they
discovered that younger teens and girls wanted freedom more than
older teens and boys did.
For more on teen health and emotional life, visit the
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