Parents want the best for their kids. Sure, that much is obvious, but sometimes those high expectations—mixed with a little anxiety, perhaps—results in paying a little too much attention to a child’s life and that, according to a new study, can be quite a detriment.
In this new, five-year study, scientists found that hovering—also known as “helicopter parenting”—can result in children who have a much higher sensitivity to being overly self-critical and that the tendency in this behavior increases over time. Conducted by at the National University of Singapore, the study also showed that children who demonstrated high or increased levels of this “self-criticalness” also appeared to have higher rates of depression and anxiety symptoms.
“When parents become intrusive in their children’s lives, it may signal to the children that what they do is never good enough. The child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being ‘perfect’,” explains National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Ryan Hong. The study leader from the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Department of Psychology goes on to say, “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.”
For the study, the researchers examined, specifically, two aspects of maladaptive perfectionism in these children. These are: self-criticalness (the tendency to be overly concerned about mistakes and imperfections) and socially-prescribed perfectionism (someone perceiving that others have a high expectation of them).
The NUS research team observed the collective behaviors of each participant, 7 to 10 years of age. Also, the looked at the behaviors of the parent more familiar with the child, coding their more intrusive behaviors in the process. Of course, further assessments of the children were taken at eight, nine and eleven years of age.
Analyzing the data collected from all of the 263 children showed that roughly 60 percent could be classified as high and/or increasing in self-criticalness. In addition, another 78 percent of these children could be classified as high in socially prescribed perfectionism. Perhaps more importantly, both aspects of maladaptive perfectionism tend to co-occur in these children, resulting in nearly 60 percent exhibiting both self-criticalness and socially prescribed perfectionism.
Hong notes, “Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasises academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children,” resulting, he suggests in a “sizable segment of children” who may become fearful of making mistakes.