Parenting Style and Procrastination

Parenting and procrastination

Posted Mar 21, 2009

Blame it on our parents. It's a common theme. Is it true for procrastination? Is parenting style related to adolescent procrastination? Yes, and there are some interesting gender differences.

There is a small body of research that has demonstrated a relationship between parenting style and procrastination. In the 1980's, Esther Rothblum and her colleagues suggested that children with overly critical, demanding parents might learn to avoid tasks, rather than risking failure. Specifically, they found that females of authoritarian fathers (high demand for control, low warmth) tended to avoid tasks more often.

In the 1990's, research demonstrated that high parental expectations and criticism were related to socially-prescribed perfectionism that is related to higher levels of procrastination. Yet other research showed that parenting characterized by stern inflexibility and overcontrol was correlated with a measure of decisional procrastination for late adolescent females. In fact, on the basis of this evidence, Gord Flett and his colleagues concluded that ". . . procrastination may be a response to the expectation that parents will respond to self-characteristics in a harsh and controlling manner" (p. 128).

Given this emphasis on self, we extended this research to investigate how the self-system may mediate the relation between parenting style and procrastination. In other words, we hypothesized that parenting style would be related to self-concept, and this in turn would be related to procrastination- the lower the self-concept, the higher the procrastination. Based on the previous research noted above, we expected that authoritarian parenting style would play a role (and it did), but we found interesting gender differences in the mediating effects.

Our research
We collected data from a sample of 105 (45 males) middle-and high-school students, average age approximately 13.5 years. These participants had parental approval to complete a package of questionnaires that assessed parenting style, self-concept, and procrastination. Participants completed the Parental Authority Questionnaire separately for mothers and fathers.

Sample item for mother:
Authoritarian subscale item - "Whenever my mother told me to do something as I was growing up, she expected me to do it immediately without asking any questions." (Rated on a 5-point scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).

Our results (Note: See this Wikipedia entry for background about parenting styles)
As expected authoritative parenting was negatively related to procrastination for both males and females. Children who rated their parents as having high demands for control and child independence but who also demonstrated warmth and responsiveness in these relationships, reported lower procrastination.

Gender effect - Females
For females, we found an indirect relation between maternal authoritative parenting and procrastination mediated through the self- system. However, paternal authoritative parenting was not associated with self-worth, but had a direct relation with procrastination. We also found an indirect relation between maternal authoritarian parenting and procrastination. Paternal authoritarian parenting was not associated with self-worth; however, it did have a direct relation with procrastination. Results from previous research provide support for these findings as well as some possible explanation for the pattern of results. For example, it has been reported that authoritarian parenting appears to have a greater impact on daughters than on sons In this regard, Ferrari and Olivette (1993) suggested that daughters may rebel against the authoritarian parenting style by delaying the completion of tasks.

In sum, mothers' parenting style predicted self-worth in their daughters which in turn predicted procrastination, whereas fathers' parenting style had a direct effect on procrastination even after controlling for self-worth. It is apparent from these results that mothers and fathers have different effects on their daughters' development. Our results suggest that fathers have a more direct effect on their daughters' development of procrastination, while the mother's effect is mediated through the self-system.

Previous developmental research may explain these findings in terms of the differing roles of mothers and father. Mothers encourage closeness and connectedness in their daughters, while the father's role is one of fostering a sense of identity and encouraging autonomy in his offspring. What is clear from this and related developmental research is that fathers and mothers play different roles in their daughter's development.

Gender effect - Males
For males the results differed as expected. We found no significant relations between parenting styles, self-worth, and procrastination in the statistical models. These findings suggest that perhaps procrastination has a different meaning for males that is not associated with parenting styles or self-worth. It may be possible that procrastination is a type of deviant behavior or misbehavior that is more socially acceptable in males than in females. Certainly, other researchers have found gender differences of this sort in previous studies. For example, previous research on gender differences in aggression found that females feel more guilt, anxiety and fear about aggressive acts than do males. There is also evidence to suggest that there are fewer negative consequences for misbehavior in boys than in girls, for example, more parental disapproval for aggressive acts than did boys. Based on previous findings, we can speculate that if procrastination is indeed a form of misbehavior like aggression, then it would be reasonable to expect a significant relationship between procrastination scores and parenting styles mediated through the self-system for girls and not for boys. Further research to investigate and expand upon this possibility is clearly needed.

Concluding thoughts
It is stating the obvious that mothers and fathers may differ in their roles in their children's development. I won't put my focus here.

What I think we learn from this and the previous research is that an authoritarian style of parenting has negative consequences. In this case, I think that the demands for control without a more democratic process, undermines the child's development of self-control. When you're always doing what you're told, not internalizing the value of an action or goal, you can come to depend on external control. At the same time, as noted by other researchers, procrastination may become one of the few means available to rebel against this control, a form of passive aggression.

In any case, a key point to take away from this research is the need to foster a strong sense of self-concept and self-regulatory ability through a more democratic approach to parenting, one in which parents expect independence and control, but couch these demands in a warm and responsive way.

Paper discussed:
Pychyl, T. A., Coplan, R. J., & Reid, P. A. (2002). Parenting and procrastination: Gender differences in the relations between procrastination, parenting style and self-worth in early adolescence. Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 271-285.

Earlier related work:
Ferrari, J. R., & Olivette, M. J. (1993). Perceptions of parental control and the development of indecision among late adolescent females. Adolescence, 28, 963-970.

Ferrari, J. R. & Olivette, M. J. (1994). Parental authority and the development of female dysfunctional procrastination. Journal of Research in Personality, 28, 87-1

Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., & Martin, T. R. (1995). Dimensions of perfectionism and procrastination. In J. R. Ferrari, J. L. Johnson, & W. G. McCown (Eds.), Procrastination and task avoidance: theory, research and treatment (pp. 113-136). New York: Plenum Press.

Rothblum, E.D., Solomon, L.J., & Murakami, J. (1986). Affective, cognitive and behavioral differences between high and low procrastinators. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 33, 387-394.