BYU study shows mean children are raised by mean parents


    By Jennefer Barton

    A recently published BYU study by the School of Family Life indicated that parents directly influence their child”s hostile behavior.

    “Kids learn by observation,” said David Nelson, the senior author of the study and a BYU assistant professor of family life. “If you spank or hit, then kids think that”s how you act. Kids think this is how you act with your peers.”

    The study titled, “Aversive Parenting in China: Associations With Child Physical and Relational Aggression” was completed this month and co-authored by BYU professor, Craig Hart.

    Examining aggressive behavior in girls is a recent phenomenon.

    “Ten years ago or so, studies claimed aggression was only in boys; they didn”t research girls because they”re aggressive in a different way,” Nelson said. “The idea of mean girls derives from our investigating in a new and different way.”

    With the release of books like “Queen Bees and Wannabees” and the movie “Mean Girls,” this subject is becoming well known and discussed around America.

    Girls are different than boys when it comes to aggression, Nelson said.

    “Girls shy away in physical aggression. Boys will be involved in any kind of aggression. Girls are only verbally and relationally aggressive,” Nelson said. “Girls seem to act with sugar and spice and everything nice, but they lash out in a different form of aggression. Boys were only aggressive physically, with the intent to hurt or harm somebody.”

    Within the field, this is one of the more impactful studies, Nelson said.

    “The debate has been going on for 10 years [about] how parents parent across different cultures,” Nelson said. “The study suggests that parenting in different cultures is more similar than dissimilar, not only in the way they parent, but the way it plays out with their children.”

    According to “Child Development” a journal published on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development, children learn many of their social behavior patterns in their family.

    “Early family experience may play a key role in the development of social skills and status among peers in the school setting,” the journal stated.

    Hostile, inconsistent parenting predicts the development of socially incompetent and aggressive behavior in children, according to “Child Development.”

    Nelson said psychological control is a negative form of parent control, producing physical coercion in boys, while girls use psychological control with relationships.

    “Psychological control manipulates kid”s emotional autonomy and physical autonomy,” Nelson said. “Parents manipulate their kids by practicing conditional love and acceptance.” The study found that psychological control predicts both forms of aggression, physical and emotional.

    Parents are doing their children a disservice by treating them in such a negative way, said Allison Rathgeber, a 20-year-old, marriage, family and human development major from Farmingdale, N.Y.

    “I think it”s going to be a problem for children, especially later on in life,” Rathgeber said. “They won”t know how they really should do things. They”re going to have to learn all over again how to act with people and what is appropriate behavior. Their lives are going to be affected in every way.”

    BYU worked with Beijing Normal University to conduct the study. The study focused on a sample of 215 preschoolers in Beijing.

    “Part of the reason why we went to China was to get our own data,” Nelson said. “Chinese parents may produce the same result as parents in the U.S.”

    To perform the study, parents rated each other”s parenting. The study found the asserters of aggression based on peer reporting by children. The children nominated six children on a picture board, and would be asked which kids act out. The study was done with preschoolers, who are four and five years old.

    Nelson said it”s important for people to know how damaging the behavior of a parent can be on a child.

    “I”m reminded of what Joseph Smith said, ”teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves,”” Nelson said. “That”s how parenting should be. What parents need to do is teach, teach, teach, teach and teach. Teach your children, don”t manipulate them.”

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