Reminder Assistant Editor
LONGMEADOW Helping your children with their homework is one thing. Doing it for them so they get a higher grade is another. Longmeadow parent and Clark University psychology professor Wendy Grolnick discusses the difference between a caring parent and a controlling parent in her new book, "Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child."
Grolnick said she originally went into psychology because she "always had an interest in what makes people tick, why people behave the way they do." She's been a professor for 21 years and a parent for 17.
"My kids were sort of the inspiration behind this book," Grolnick told Reminder Publications. "I've always been interested in the link between motivation and parenting."
Her studies of controlling parents -- caregivers who try to solve all of their child's problems -- found that the children of these parents have lower levels of intrinsic motivation.
"As they grow older, kids will be less likely to try to solve their problems on their own," Grolnick explained.
Her studies also focused on why parents behave like this.
"Our biology leaves us predisposed to want to make our kids the best," Grolnick said. "It's in our genes. The thing that's changed is the level of competition."
She said children today have to deal with more testing and jump more hurdles than any generation of the past. "That ticks off our biology all the time," she added.
In one laboratory experiment, Grolnick split up two groups of parents and children and asked them to perform certain tasks. One half was told the child would be evaluated, while the other half would not be. In the half that was going to be evaluated, Grolnick found mothers were much more likely to solve their child's problems.
"Some fathers are vulnerable to this as well," she stated.
"Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids" aims to help panicky parents deal with the torrential emotions stirred up by our competitive society and to give them scientific knowledge about their children's growing years, according to a release from the book's publisher, Prometheus Books. Grolnick co-wrote the book with Kathy Seal, an educational and parenting journalist.
"We tried to be very empathic in the book," Grolnick said. "If you are controlling, that's because you're a parent. It's just that nobody talks about it. Our book talks about ways to channel that energy."
She added that it is "so understandable" for parents who want their children to succeed both academically and athletically, but while their intentions are good, their plans often backfire.
Many parents feel that if their child isn't the best in a certain area that they themselves are to blame. Grolnick insists this is not true.
"There are three needs for children to feel passionate about things," Grolnick explained. "They need to feel competent, autonomous and connected."
Children often lose interest in activities because parents become big involvement promoters. "They feel the more their child does, the better," Grolnick said. "The more we crush them and try to create them, the less likely they are to have motivation.
"Kids will develop their own interests, pursue their own passions and thrive because it's in their nature," she continued. "Have faith in the developmental process of your kids."
Does the author follow her own advice? "I truly believe this. I try to practice what I preach," she said, "but my kids know the language. They'll stop me and say 'You're being a controlling mother.' It really challenges even the most committed parent."
"Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids" is available online at www.bn.com and www.amazon.com and is also available at the Barnes & Noble in Holyoke.