Study: Shaming Kids Effective Or Not? Depends On Parents’ Religiosity Level

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According to research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a child’s response to a stern environment in the house can depend on the religious belief of the parent.

The study has been published in the ‘Child Development Journal’. Studies led by Professor Maayan Davidov at HU’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare showed that a child’s response to such stern discipline can depend on the religious commitment of the parent. Her research, in collaboration with Maya Oren-Gabai and Dr Islam Abu-Asaad, assessed the social behaviour of children aged between 6 and 12 years old in 300+ secular and religious Israeli Jewish and Muslim families.

The results showed that in secular Jewish families, mothers’ use of psychological control did appear to have a negative effect on their kids, making them less likely to help others. However, in religious Jewish families, there was no such “cost” to this parenting style. Furthermore, in religious Muslim families, this style of parenting actually appeared to have a positive effect: it was associated with more helpful behaviour on the part of the child, while among secular Muslims there was no discernible effect either way.

For the purposes of this study, more than 315 parents filled out a detailed questionnaire to assess their religiosity level, parenting style, and use of psychological control in everyday situations. Their children were then given tests to assess their social behaviour, especially their willingness to help a stranger with the simple task of picking up paperclips that had been “accidentally dropped” by a lab assistant.

“It is important to bear this mind when providing parenting programs and guidance to parents – parenting behaviour doesn’t work in the same way in different cultural and religious contexts. For example, what is detrimental in one context may not be harmful in another context,” shared Davidov.

According to Davidov, these findings are consistent with the theory that in religious families, parents’ psychological control of their children is driven by a system of values. These values are understood by parent and child, it’s accepted that parents know what is best for their child’s development and that children are obligated to respect their parents and the religious values they bestow. In contrast, however, when parents exert psychological control in a secular context, they are acting in a way that is inconsistent with larger secular cultural values of autonomy and self-direction. In such cases, shaming and guilt-tripping on the part of the parents is likely viewed by the child in a negative light and as expressions of hostility or rejection which may undermine kids’ positive social development.

Davidov is planning follow-up research to investigate parental behaviour that promotes empathic behaviour in their children.

“I want to connect the dots so that we can better understand why parental behaviour can have different consequences in different families,” said Davidov.


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