‘Left-be­hind’ kids can suc­ceed

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York paulwelitzkin@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

As the ranks of China’s “left-be­hind chil­dren” con­tinue to grow, re­cently re­leased univer­sity re­search shows that the gen­er­a­tion needs to do more than dream of a hap­pier and suc­cess­ful fu­ture self — they also re­quire a strat­egy for be­com­ing that per­son.

The re­search was con­ducted by Daphna Oy­ser­man, dean’s pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy and co-di­rec­tor of the Dornsife Cen­ter for Mind and So­ci­ety at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in Los An­ge­les. She was helped by Chongzeng Bi of South­west Univer­sity in Chongqing.

The sci­en­tists fo­cused on a pop­u­la­tion with so­cial and eco­nomic chal­lenges: ru­ral Chi­nese chil­dren who are left in the care of grand­par­ents be­cause their par­ents have moved to an ur­ban area to seek higher-pay­ing em­ploy­ment far from home.

“It’s es­ti­mated that 40 per­cent of the chil­dren in ru­ral ar­eas (or about 60 mil­lion) in China are con­sid­ered left be­hind,” Oy­ser­man said in an in­ter­view.

When the par­ents move from the coun­try­side to an ur­ban area, their chil­dren are not al­lowed to en­roll in a new school. Usu­ally, it’s the grand­par­ents that must care for the chil­dren rang­ing in age from 5 un­til they are teenagers.

“Ev­ery­one en­cour­ages the par­ents to leave in the hope that ev­ery­one will have a brighter fu­ture,” said Oy­ser­man. The par­ents usu­ally re­turn home once a year dur­ing the spring new year cel­e­bra­tion.

Oy­ser­man and South­west Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Chongzeng Bi con­ducted stud­ies with four sep­a­rate groups of chil­dren, all around 14 years old, to­tal­ing from 124 to 176 stu­dents in Chongqing. Many of the teens re­ported that their par­ents had left them when they were as young as 5.

The re­searchers gauged the stu­dents’ feel­ings about be­ing left be­hind, their fu­ture and fa­tal­ism, and sought to de­ter­mine what helps chil­dren rise above dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

Two of the stud­ies found that the mid­dle-school stu­dents per­formed bet­ter in school if they had strate­gies for be­com­ing their fu­ture selves, as well as sev­eral op­tions for be­com­ing the self that they en­vi­sion.

The other two stud­ies showed that the mere thought of an un­happy child­hood was enough to dampen the op­ti­mism and the abil­ity of chil­dren to plan their es­capes.

Through a com­bi­na­tion of ex­per­i­ments, fi­nal exam re­sults and be­hav­ior re­ports, the re­searchers found that the thought of be­ing “left be­hind” had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the teens’ op­ti­mism for the fu­ture, and it in­creased their fa­tal­ism.

Hav­ing feel­ings that their fate and fu­ture were not in their con­trol damp­ened the num­ber of im­ages stu­dents had of their fu­ture selves as well as the num­ber of strate­gies they had to be­come their fu­ture selves, Oy­ser­man said.

Stu­dents with more im­ages of their fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties scored higher on the exam. Re­searchers found that left-be­hind stu­dents who had more strate­gies to at­tain their pos­si­ble selves scored bet­ter on their ex­ams a year later, con­trol­ling for their prior test score, and they were less likely to be de­pressed, Oy­ser­man said.

Imag­in­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for the fu­ture can be en­er­giz­ing, but for this to hap­pen, chil­dren need strate­gies to get go­ing. The strate­gies do not have to be de­tailed, just present, noted Oy­ser­man.

Prior re­search has shown that left- be­hind chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence a higher rate of in­jury and ill­ness com­pared to oth­ers, Oy­ser­man said, while they face dis­crim­i­na­tion by teach­ers, their com­mu­ni­ties and the media.

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