When parents guilt-trip small children, the kids are still angry and distressed about it the next day. That’s the preliminary report from the Academy of Finland, which is currently conducting an examination of the effects of a parent using guilt to change the behavior of children.
The team led by Kaisa Aunola studied 150 children through the first grade as they interacted with parents and teachers. They observed that tired or upset parents were more likely to use guilt to manipulate their child. Both mothers and fathers resorted to guilt-trips, but the lingering effects on the child were even more damaging when the culprit was the father.
Emotional or psychological abuse is the invisible abuse that leaves no physical traces. It’s difficult to see, much less to prove, and there isn’t much that child protection services can do about the average guilt-tripper. It’s up to parents to police themselves and refrain from using psychological manipulation that harms a child’s self-esteem.
According to the American Humane Association, “the hidden scars of this type of abuse…[include] insecurity, poor self-esteem, destructive behavior, angry acts (such as fire setting and animal cruelty), withdrawal, poor development of basic skills, alcohol or drug abuse, suicide, difficulty forming relationships and unstable job histories.”
Now, everybody gets tired and says something they don’t mean once in awhile. That isn’t the same as using guilt as the go-to tool in dealing with a child.
Dr. Jane Chin, owner of Jane’s Mental Health Source Page, has said that the use of guilt and psychological manipulation has been a big problem in the Asian community. Noting that 13 out of 21 students who committed suicide at her alma mater were Asian or Asian-American, she wrote, “I love my parents…But I am not joking when I say the main driver of how dysfunctional and ‘screwed up’ we [are]… comes from our parents.”
She feels so strongly about the issue that she has an entire area of her blog devoted to “Wounded Cubs of Tiger Mothers,” which confronts the place of guilt in high-achieving Asian children’s relationship with their mothers. The high pressure tactics used by so-called “Tiger Moms” was popularized by writer Amy Chua, who seemingly has built a career on her fight to control her youngest daughter.
However, the Finnish study reminds us that parents of any background can make a lasting, hurtful impact on their child if they book too many guilt-trips.
[photo tiger mother and cub courtesy Dave Pape and Wikipedia Commons]