Strict upbringing "can harm children"

A Swiss study advocates dialogue rather than tough love (Imagepoint) imagepoint

An authoritarian upbringing can have a negative impact on children's results and integration at school and their sense of self-worth, according to a study.

This content was published on May 24, 2006 - 07:51

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) research into education and discipline at home found that children from "participative" rather than strict families do better at school.

"Our results send a very different message to the one we have been hearing recently – especially from child psychiatrists – that parents need to be stricter with their children's upbringing," said the author of the report, Alain Clémence from Lausanne University.

The study, which advocates an open upbringing rather than tough love, comes at a time when many people are pointing the finger at parents for their children's aggressive behaviour and problems at school.

Following interviews with 500 12-15-year-olds and their families from French-speaking Switzerland, the research found that in the majority of homes children were involved in family decisions and were educated "democratically". Authoritarian or ultra-liberal parents represented a minority.

The research then examined the consequences of the different parental styles on children's performances at school and their general welfare.

It found that young children whose parents listened to them and involved them in decisions at home showed greater self-worth and integration at school, irrespective of the socio-professional level of their parents, the language spoken at home or their family situation.

When parents were stricter with their children, particularly the younger ones, self-respect was particularly low.


Childrens' performances in particular school subjects were then analysed to gauge the impact of different styles of upbringing.

"We were particularly surprised to see how a more democratic and participative style of upbringing clearly has a major impact on school results, independent of the parents' social background or education level," said the author.

Differences between boys and girls were also marked.

"The paradox is that parents tend to be more controlling with boys and more laid back with girls. Yet our results show that both styles can have a negative impact," said Clémence, pointing to the need for participative parenting.

As part of the wider debate on education and authority, the authors have published a brochure for parents with some of the main conclusions. A similar brochure will soon be available for teachers.

"If a child disappoints you, digs their heels in or refuses to talk the best thing is to maintain dialogue, even if it isn't easy," the author concluded.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley

In brief

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) research comes at a time when education standards and children's behaviour and performances at school are under the spotlight.

A recent poll by Zurich's gfs Institute for the Univox research programme showed that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the present school system. In particular, most Swiss (around 70%) said there was not enough discipline in schools.

Switzerland's school system has come in for increasing criticism since the 2003 Pisa study, an international survey of educational standards among 15-year-olds, revealed what critics called serious shortcomings in reading, as well as considerable differences among the cantons.

A majority of the electorate voted on Sunday for more cohesion in the education system.

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Key facts

The study was carried out as part of the national SNSF programme into "Childhood, young people and generational relations in a changing society".
In total, 500 schoolchildren aged between 12 and 15 were interviewed in Cossonay and Bex in canton Vaud, and Delémont in canton Jura.
Written questionnaires were then followed by individual interviews with the parents of approximately 100 children and 26 teachers.

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