HONG KONG parents have a reputation for piling pressure on their children to ensure that they leave school with top marks. But a new study shows that they need to look to their own attitudes if they want to achieve that goal.
Parenting style has a major influence on adolescents' academic achievement, according to the study by the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong. But it also shows that, contrary to the image of the over-concerned Hong Kong parent, the most common type of parent is neglectful and least likely to enhance that success.
The Association presented its findings to last week's International Conference on Family and Community Care, organised by the Hong Kong Council of Social Services.
Adolescents whose parents are open-minded and communicative but assertive are more likely to flourish at school than those with strict parents who insist rigid rules be obeyed.
But those who fare worst have parents categorised as neglectful, according to the research carried out for the association by Yau Yuk-lan, Dominic Chui and Justina Leung.
The study revealed that as many as 44 per cent have parents who are neglectful, defined in the study as being tolerant, using little punishment, making few demands, remaining uninvolved and lacking warmth.
In contrast, 28 per cent were classified as ''authoritative'' which involves laying down clear rules for their children to follow while also encouraging their independence, individuality and being ready to openly communicate with them.
''Authoritarian'' parents accounted for 15 per cent of those in the study. Their parenting style involves a need to shape, control and judge the behaviour and attitudes of their children in accordance with a rigid set of standards. They also emphasise obedience, respect for authority, work, tradition and the preservation of order. Verbal give-and-take between parent and child is discouraged.
Indulgent parents, accounting for 14 per cent, are tolerant and accepting, use little punishment and allow considerable self-regulation. They differ from neglectful parents by being interested in their children and offering them warmth.
Whole classes from 16 primary and 20 secondary schools took part in the survey, with 2,576 adolescents, aged 11 to 14, completing questionnaires about their academic performance and family life.
''One of the most concerned areas of parents in Hong Kong is their children's academic performance,'' says the report. ''This may be due to the traditional Chinese life value which encourages the identity between personal achievement and filial piety and the pressure derived from a more competitive modern society.'' But Ms Leung said that this concern was more common among the educated and middle classes. ''Many people are not aware of the parenting role, do not know how to care for their children and are forced to look after their own difficulties. Lack of parental supervision and guidance is not uncommon,'' she said.
She added that their findings were confirmed by school principals, who commonly said that many parents regarded their children's education as the sole responsibility of the school. ''Some would care about their children's homework, some would not,'' she said.
She added that there were also a growing number of parents anxious that their children worked hard and performed well at school.
The association carried out the study to find out what makes for an academically successful child, looking in particular at the link between parental style and children's academic performance.
It found that there was not only a significant link, but that the attitude of parents was more important in determining the success of their offspring than other social factors, such as the education level of parents, their socio-economic status or the type of housing they lived in.
Of the four classifications of parents, adolescents from authoritative families scored highest, while those from neglectful scored the least. Those with indulgent parents were a little better off than those with authoritarian.
The study also found that there was a stronger link between academic success and parents who are warm, involved and accepting than parents who are strict disciplinarians.
Ms Yau said that the impact of the different parenting styles on adolescents' self-esteem and self-image could cause the difference in school performance.
The research is part of a wider study of the relationship between parental style and adolescents' behaviour to be completed in the autumn.
Academic achievement was measured by pupils' response to questions in four areas: overall school results, pupils' motivation to achieve academically and their perception of their academic competence and school pressure.
In school results, those with authoritative parents did slightly better than those with authoritarian, but significantly better than those with indulgent or neglectful parents. But in terms of academic motivation, competence and school pressure, pupils whose parents had an authoritative approach scored significantly better than the other three parent categories. Those from neglectful families performed the worst.
''Through this study we can try to let parents know what to expect of their children and to look at their parenting style. Through our parent education programme we can help them understand their role,'' she said.
''We cannot say which parenting style is best, though we would not recommend parents to be neglectful.'' She added that lack of communication in families, common in those whose parenting style was categorised as neglectful or authoritarian, was a major concern in Hong Kong.