Can parent-child conflict impair a sense of purpose in children?
Parent-child relationships are vital to the development of children. However, some of these relationships are troubled which has a negative impact on the child. According to new research, troubled relationships with parents have a negative impact on the development of sense of purpose in life as children reach adulthood. Having a sense of purpose is viewed as a benchmark for adaptive development. Both adolescence and emerging adulthood are important periods for the development of sense of purpose, however, little is known about childhood factors that impact the development of sense of purpose.
Children who reported having conflicts with their father were also negatively influenced but the impact on sense of purpose was the greatest in children who reported conflicts in their early relationship with their mother.
To investigate whether parent-child conflict during elementary school impacts later sense of purpose, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis assessed data from a long-running Oregon study of 1,074 students and their parents. Fifty per cent of the students in this study were female and both parents and children self-reported on levels of parent-child conflict in their families during grades 1-5. Children and parents were asked to respond to true-or-false statements about their interaction with each other. They were asked questions such as We joke around often,” “We never have fun together,” or “We enjoy the talks we have.” Other questions asked whether “We get angry at each other” at least once a day, three times a week, or “a lot.”
The researchers continued to conduct follow-up surveys on life satisfaction and perceived stress till the students reached adulthood (ages 21-23 years). Sense of purpose was scored based on responses to statements such as “There is a direction in my life,” “My plans for the future match with my true interests and values,” “I know which direction I am going to follow in my life,” and “My life is guided by a set of clear commitments.” Questions on life satisfaction and perceived stress included: In the past month, how often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life, confident about your ability to handle your personal problems, that things were going your way, or that difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them? The researchers used rich data set to associate what children thought of their relationship with their parents and their attitude about purpose in life as they were entering adulthood.
As defined by the study, a sense of purpose involves having the belief that one has a stable, far-reaching aim that organizes and stimulates behaviours and goals to promote progress toward that objective. The study showed that the child’s perspective of conflict in a relationship had the greatest impact on later sense of purpose. What was most important was the child’s relationship with their mother. The study found that children who had more conflict with their mother during the early years found it difficult to find a sense of purpose later on it life. Children who reported having conflicts with their father were also negatively influenced but the impact on sense of purpose was the greatest in children who reported conflicts in their early relationship with their mother. Childhood reports of conflicts with fathers also predicted less life satisfaction in emerging adulthood. The researchers also found that parent’s reports of troubled relationships with their children were poor predictors of later sense of purpose. Only the child’s perspective seemed to matter.
The study shows that development of sense of purpose — plays a key role in motivating children to develop life skills — starts at an early age and that the child’s relationship with their parent, especially the mother has a powerful impact. The findings suggest that positive parent-child relationships may prove important for starting youth on the path to purpose.
Source: Journal of Youth and Adolescence
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