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So many ways to mess up our kids, so little time

September 21, 2008 |  8:01 am

NewfountainParents are there for their kids. And researchers are there for parents -- largely, it would seem, to tell them what they might be doing wrong.

This week, they added these findings to the list of things parents should be worrying about:

* Parental arguments can damage a kid's classwork.

To be more exact, kids who fret about their parents' relationship can have trouble concentrating in school. And if they can't concentrate, all sorts of psychological problems could follow.

In a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers from the University of Rochester, Syracuse University and the University of Notre Dame studied 216 kids, age 6, their parents and their teachers. They assessed the children's worries about how their parents got along, and they sought feedback from the teachers. Those kids who were most concerned about their parents' relationship had significantly more attention problems. Those problems were, in turn, linked to adjustment difficulties.

The researchers added that many of the worries stemmed from actually witnessing relationship troubles. That does not necessarily suggest that a life of silent animosity is a better choice than no disagreement whatsoever, but the study is one of the first to try to establish exactly how children's concerns about parental conflict may be linked to future adjustment problems.

"Understanding how children respond to discord between parents is a pressing priority for public health," lead author Patrick T. Davies said in a news release. "Implementing programs to help strengthen children's ability to pay attention may be one way to promote children's mental health without jeopardizing what may be adaptive or realistic ways of dealing with discord between their parents."

The study was published in the September/October issue of Child Development.

* Moms' view of their kids can haunt those kids in very specific ways.

Researchers at Iowa State University analyzed data from nearly 800 Iowa mothers and their children. Building upon earlier findings that a mom's belief that her school-age kids would use alcohol was linked to the likelihood that her kids would actually do so, the researchers focused on how that connection actually works. It pretty much comes down to self-verification. The kids think it -- and they become it.

"I think the moral here is to help children develop positive and pro-social self-concepts about themselves, because children are likely to make choices that match how they view themselves," lead author Stephanie Madon said in a news release.

In effect, moms who have faith in their kids are more likely to be rewarded. Or live in blissful ignorance.

The paper was published in the August issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

* Overbearing parents can take all the fun out of a good hobby.

A researcher at the University of Montreal studied 588 people, ages 6 to 38, and found that they were more likely to be obsessive about their hobbies (in these instances, piano playing, saxophone playing, skiing or swimming) if their parents were authoritative and controlling. Those kids who were allowed more autonomy were more likely to have what the researcher dubbed a harmonious passion for their hobby.

"The child learns that by obeying their parents they will be loved," lead author Genevieve Mageau said in a news release. "The risk is that as adults they continue to pursue the activity to maintain their self-esteem."

But what are their chances of bringing home a medal if left to their own devices?

That research is to be published in the Journal of Personality.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Sure, they may start out carefree. Here, kids play in a fountain in Boston.

Credit: Lisa Poole / Associated Press

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