Thursday, May 30, 2013

When more support is less....

Finkel and Fitzsimons, whose work I mentioned in a post several years ago, do a review of studies showing that the children of parents who generously finance and regulate in detail their education ("helicopter parenting') make worse grades and feel less satisfied with their lives.
It seems that certain forms of help can dilute recipients’ sense of accountability for their own success. The college student might think: If Mom and Dad are always around to solve my problems, why spend three straight nights in the library during finals rather than hanging out with my friends?
They reference their previous work (see MindBlog link above) showing that this effect generalizes to many 'helping' situations.
Women who thought about how their spouse was helpful with their health and fitness goals became less motivated to work hard to pursue those goals: relative to the control group, these women planned to spend one-third less time in the coming week pursuing their health and fitness goals.
....the problem: how can we help our children (and our spouses, friends and co-workers) achieve their goals without undermining their sense of personal accountability and motivation to achieve them?...The answer, research suggests, is that our help has to be responsive to the recipient’s circumstances: it must balance their need for support with their need for competence. We should restrain our urge to help unless the recipient truly needs it, and even then, we should calibrate it to complement rather than substitute for the recipient’s efforts.
(I like to think that this would be a good description of how I ran my research laboratory, training graduate and post-doctoral students, for 30 years.) A final clip:
...providing help is most effective under a few conditions: when the recipient clearly needs it, when our help complements rather than replaces the recipient’s own efforts, and when it makes recipients feel that we’re comfortable having them depend on us.
So yes, by all means, parents, help your children. But don’t let your action replace their action. Support, don’t substitute. Your children will be more likely to achieve their goals — and, who knows, you might even find some time to get your own social life back on track.

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