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From Music To Sports: Autonomy Fosters Passion Among Kids

February 3, 2010

Canadian study links parenting to children’s relationships to hobbies

Parents take heed: children and young adults are more likely to pursue sports, music or other pastimes when given an opportunity to nurture their own passion. According to a three-part study led by Genevive Mageau, a psychology professor at the Universit© de Montr©al, parental control can predict whether a child develops a harmonious or obsessive passion for a hobby.

Published in the latest Journal of Personality, the study was a collaboration with scientists from the Universit© de Montr©al, the Universit© du Qu©bec à Montreal and McGill University.

“We found that controlling adults can foster obsessive passion in their children by teaching them that social approval can only be obtained through excellence,” says Dr. Mageau. “An activity then becomes highly important for self-protective reasons that don’t necessarily correspond with a child’s true desires.”

From children to adults

As part of the study, the research team evaluated 588 musicians and athletes from swimmers to skiers. Participants were between six and 38 years old and practiced hobbies at different levels: beginner, intermediate and expert. Kids were recruited from high school or specialized summer camps, while adults were recruited at training camps and competitions. The scientific team used a Likert-type scale to measure how parents supported child autonomy and to evaluate child well-being regarding hobbies.

While parents do well to support their children to pursue an activity, such encouragement can graduate to unwelcome pressure. “Children and teenagers who are allowed to be autonomous are more likely to actively engage in their activity over time,” says Dr. Mageau. “Being passionate should not be viewed as a personality trait ““ it is a special relationship one develops with an activity.”

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