Left Behind Children
A Comparison of Academic Self-Efficacy between Rural Left-Behind Children and Non-Left-Behind Children in China
Name of Student
Name of Institution
Background of the Study
Unfortunately, urbanization has forced most parents to leave their children behind in the rural areas as they seek for job opportunities in the cities. These children are often left under the care of their relatives [or friends] while the parents attempt to make ends meet (Fengbo et al., 2016). It is impossible for them to relocate with their children, as this move will reduce their efficiency and effectiveness apropos of their agenda. Apparently, the reason(s) behind this practice in China is for economization as children are bound to double or even triple the expenses in the city. It is sensible to understand that a parent living alone in the city is capable of thriving due to the lack of extra and avoidable expenses. When parents leave their children behind, they are bound to have psychological effects that may affect their academics (Jingzhong, 2011; Ren & Treiman, 2016; Su et al., 2012). The inclusion of the idea(s) of “academic efficacy” assists the LBC in improving their academic growth, progress and development. A comparison of the Non-LBC and LBC is, however, one of the important explorations in this study.
Definition of terms
Left-Behind Children (LBC):
Children whose parents leave them behind [with relatives or friends] in rural China while the latter relocates to the city for employment and survival.
Non-left Behind Children:
These children live with their parents in the rural parts of China.
The region occupies only about 45% of the people in China and is particularly classified as the opposite of “urban China.”
It is a personal and individualistic belief that a human being who has set aside their educational goals is bound to achieve them.
Personal, academic development:
Individuals should be aware of their academic skills, prowess, and talents to warrant growth and development.
These are the number of gaps and loopholes in a specific research process.
Current Situation of Left-behind Children in Rural China
Until now, there is an understanding that the lives of LBCs in rural China are still at stake. Numerous reports depict that these children are deprived of sleep, high academic performance, and social relationships. Most of the children still suffer from psychological conditions such a depression thus succumbing to sad episodes and lifestyles. In fact, the children whose mothers leave them behind with relatives are bound to suffer emotionally. They do not have any parent to instil nurturing characteristics in them thus interfering with the children’s emotive development. Fortunately, also, the current situation of LBCs has improved in parts such as Hefeng County. Some female teachers have taken the responsibilities of nurturing these LBCs and providing them with maternal love (Masud et al., 2016). There are also social workers that offer therapeutic and counselling services to these LBCs. In the same county, small houses have been constructed to accommodate these LBCs and provide them with technological advancements to communicate with their parents. They receive care as well as the opportunity to link with their parents through audio or video calls. Even if the situation has not improved in some of the rural regions in China, there is enough hope to expect a change in the position of these LBCs.
Consequences Caused by the Parental Absence
There are many consequences of parental lack to LBCs. Foremostly; there are no role models guiding these children to grow into moral adults. Children should look up to their parents for physical, emotional and moral guidance. Even if they are left behind with their relatives, the pieces of advice received by the children cannot be compared to the parental one. Lack of guidance often interferes with the children’s growth, as they do not have ‘pressure’ to succeed in their education (Masud et al., 2016). Furthermore, parents’ absence affects the emotional security of these children. It is obvious that the Non-LBCs are emotional stronger because they live with their parents in these rural parts of China. They are not ‘neglected’ by their parents; thus, they grow in nurturing environments that cajole them to achieve greatness.
Failure of the LBCs to acquire parental love affects their self-efficacy as some of them develop psychological disorders that which distort their self-esteem. These children easily succumb to suicidal feelings because of the depression and stress that accompanies their beliefs of ‘neglect.’ Again, a category of LBCs adopts rebellious characteristics as a way of psychologically projecting their parents ‘abandonment’ (Ren & Treiman, 2016). While some will acquire their morals from these relatives or friends, others will protest the choices of their parents thus [negatively] affecting their developmental states (Su et al., 2012). Parental absence has both its advantages and drawbacks, but China is continually working toward acquiring solutions for the LBCs in its rural regions.
There is a comparison of academic self-efficacy between rural left-behind children and non-left-behind children in China.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to enlighten individuals on the link between rural-left behind children (LBCs) and non-left behind children in China. It will look into the reasons and explanations for the rise of LBCs in the rural regions of China. There is the need for individuals to understand that living in the cities with children would lead to doubled or tripled budgets. In this study, there is an exploration of the need for economization and proper utilization of resources. Moreover, the study will explore both the pros and cons of the LBCs situation and offer the best solution, after that. It is a comprehensive study as it not only examines the scope(s) of LBCs and non-LBCs but also compares them.
What is the comparison of academic self-efficacy between rural left-behind children and non-left-behind children in China?
Implications of the Study
In this study, there is an explanation that urbanization in China affected the physical, emotional and moral development of children. The numbers of parents that relocate to the urban areas are forced to ‘neglect’ their children in the rural parts of China. However, it is an important choice in cases where the parents are in dire need of employment opportunities. The study also extrapolates on the idea(s) that LBCs are prone to psychological issues such as depression and stress (Jingzhong, 2011; Wen & Lin, 2011). Even if the children are left with relatives or friends, their affiliation with parents cannot be compared to these. The study concludes that LBCs are bound to succumb to rebellious activities if they are not raised by their birth parents. In this case, the solution is to reduce the number of LBCs in China as well as reducing the effects of this situation on the children.
The rapid development of cities around China exemplified by increased production activities has facilitated increased rural-urban migration. Fengbo et al. (2016) argue that due to the increasing prices and the growing pressure from inflation, it is becoming difficult for parents to maintain big families successfully in these cities (Fengbo et al., 2016). Consequently, most parents opt to leave their children with relatives and friends in these rural parts. As a result, therefore, they save money and improve their living standards (Fengbo et al., 2016). However, Lee (2011) notes that when parents leave their children behind for a long time, the children are bound to suffer psychological and social effects. The effects may include interference with the children’s academic self-efficacy (Lee, 2011). Self-efficacy is a focal factor of constructive child growth, which assists LBCs to recover from emotional distress and effectively deal with academic pressure while [positively] influencing their psychological development (Wen & Lin, 2011). To develop an effective solution to this challenge, it is imperative for studies such as this one to be conducted on the bearing of parental relocation on the academic self-efficacy of left-behind children.
Research on Academic Self-efficacy
Academic self-efficacy denotes to an individual’s certainty that they can efficaciously triumph at a selected level on an academic assignment or attain a particular educational objective (Bandura, 1997). It is repeatedly designated as assignment-specific self-assurance and is a critical element in learning and motivation theories across different milieu. An expansive selection of human performance from academic achievement to athletic dexterity can be predicted and explained using the ideology of self-efficacy (Artino, 2012). According to research, having high self-efficacy especially when having a shot at complicated tasks creates feelings of serenity while low self-efficacy may lead to the student perceiving the job as more complex than it is in reality. The idea, according to Downey, Eccless, and Chatman (2006), may lead to the development of stress, anxiety and a limited idea on the best approach of solving the task. Due to the situational nature of self-efficacy, it is highly interrelated to parenting styles and personal, academic development among children.
The relationship between Academic Self-Efficacy and Parenting Styles
Parenting is a multifaceted activity that entails several specific behaviours that operate individually and together to influence child outcomes. Hoeve et al., (2011) define parenting style as a psychological construct that represents the established strategies that parents apply in the process of bringing up their children. Parents often learn their parenting styles from their parents with some adopting their parents’ style in wholesome or discarding some of the practices. There are four widely recognised parenting styles in the world. These include the authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and neglectful styles of parenting. Also known as autocratic style, the authoritarian style of parenting is a highly rigid system of ‘limits without freedoms’ that exhibits high expectations of expectations of conformity and compliance to parenting rules and directions (Hoeve et al., 2011). Authoritative style is high on demanding and high on responsiveness and therefore allows some little room for negotiations. Permissive parenting is low on demand and high on responsiveness while neglectful parenting style is low on both market and responsiveness.
Parenting styles have an effect on the development of academic self-efficacy among children through the association differs between paternal and maternal methods. Qamar et al., (2017) found a weak but positive and statistically noteworthy connexion between the students’ academic self-efficacy and authoritative paternal style (Qamar et al., 2017). The same study, however, established a statistically insignificant relationship between authoritative maternal style and their children’s academic self-efficacy. The connection between this academic self-efficacy and styles of parenting persists even into adolescence. In their study which targets teenagers, Rivers et al., (2012) found out those teenagers whose parents made use of authoritative parenting styles exhibited an intrinsic motivation in their educational endeavours (Rivers et al., 2012). However, children and adolescents in both studies reported passive parenting or absent parents that were unavailable most of the time augured a lack motivation for students to perform in their academics.
Parenting styles do not only affect a child’s academic self-efficacy but their attachment to peers as well. A mother’s permissive style promotes aggressive behaviour among children while limiting the child’s attachment to peers (Llorca-Mestre et al., 2017). Effectively, academic self-efficacy and peer relations are considered mediator variables between a child’s school performance and parenting styles. Authoritative Chinese parents have more impact on the academic self-efficacy of their children (Leung et al., 1998). Effectively, the more the parent is present in their children’s lives while they are still young, the more the children develop academic self-efficacy even into their adolescence. In a rather contradicting stance, Masud et al. (2016) concluded that there is no relationship between parenting styles and academic performance. However, the researchers argued that self-efficacy is a critical mediator in the link between authoritative styles of parenting and academic achievement (Masud et al. 2016). Due to the impact that self-efficacy has on the psychological development of children, it can be concluded that parenting styles (which influence self-efficacy) have an effect on the academic performance of children.
The Relationship between Academic Self-Efficacy and Personal Academic Development
Personal, academic development refers to a lifelong process that deals with all the activities that promote identity and awareness and professional development. The personal educational development also develops potential and talents; build human capital and improve an individual’s employability skills and professional competencies while enhancing the quality of life and contributing to the attainment of the individual’s aspirations and dreams (Kumar, 2009). Personal development is equally important for the achievement of self-actualisation as demonstrated by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Robertson, 2016). At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs, and these people aspire to satisfy their needs to graduate to the following levels of the pyramid. These are accompanied by safety and security needs, the need for love and belonging, the need for self-esteem and self-worth, the need to understand, aesthetic needs and at the pinnacle are the self-actualisation needs (Robertson, 2016). The desire by an individual to move up the hierarchy of needs is informed by their self-efficacy.
The Bandura theory can be used to predict and elucidate the relationship that exists between academic self-efficacy and personal educational development. According to the method, the academic functioning of students is not only affected by a range of non-academic but also school-related situational variables and academic ones (Urdan & Pajares, 2006). Educational self-efficacy beliefs such as social functioning, personal self-regulatory functioning, and academic functioning are important variables in the promotion of personal, academic development among students (Cabrera, 2017). A lack of these beliefs in children, therefore, would limit their personal educational growth.
Other factors considered by Bandura in his research included student measures and parents’ self-efficacy measures and their effects on the intrinsic motivation among the students to take up personal, academic development initiatives. According to Hartas (2011), the socioeconomic status of the family was often demonstrated through the parents’ personal and academic aspirations as well as through the children’s pro-social behaviour. Effectively, children from well-to-do backgrounds are most likely to exhibit a high sense of academic self-efficacy and therefore be able to put more effort in personal educational development compared to those from poor or modest backgrounds. It is in line with the assertion by Urdan and Pajares (2006) that children who doubt their academic self-efficacy exhibit a reduced sense of personal and educational aspirations and are bound to experience greater depression.
Children usually feel more self-efficacious when undertaking tasks and may at times overestimate their capabilities, but the preciseness of their self-efficacy assessment improves with development. Therefore, the more the information is available for the children as they develop. These children become more aware of their academic self-efficacy and consequently, the more they aspire to achieve even greater goals both in their personal and academic lives (Lepper et al., 2005). It is, therefore, at this stage that family, and specifically parents, become an integral part of the children’s lives as they progress to adolescence and eventually into adulthood. According to Wentzel and Miele (2009), parents who provide responsive, warm and supportive environments to their children encourage their exploration and effectively spur the desire to take up personal, academic development initiatives. There is a positive association between both self-efficacy and self-concept and the need for personal educational development. According to Duchesne and McMaugh (2013), self-efficacy is often related to self-regulation, which has been linked by research to the desire to achieve academically (Duchesne & McMaugh, 2013; Hughes, 2012). If learners exhibit high self-efficacy, they will tend to desire to develop themselves academically (Hughes, 2012). However, learners with low self-efficacy have low self-esteem and are often pessimistic about their personal development prospects.
The Relationship between Academic Self-Efficacy and Academic Performance
Academic performance or achievement can be understood as the representation of performance outcomes that demonstrate the extent to which an individual has attained specific goals that were the focus of activities in instructional environments such as schools, colleges, and universities. While Gbollie and Keamu (2017) underscore the importance of motivational factors in the attainment of academic performance, Duchesne and McMaugh (2013) link academic success to a student’s academic self-efficacy. This link between academic self-efficacy and academic performance can be established through self-regulation. Self-regulated learning behaviours such as goal-setting, planning, persistence and monitoring of learning are often linked with students who exhibit high academic self-efficacy. According to Çelik (2015), academic self-efficacy is a great mediator in student academic support and personal growth initiative. It means that students who exhibit high academic self-efficacy are most likely to benefit the most from student academic support and will show high tendency to take up personal growth behaviour.
A systematic literature review of 12 years of research on the relationship between students’ academic self-efficacy and their academic performance uncovered the connection between academic self-efficacy and academic performance among the students (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). However, there are mediating and moderating factors that were identified in this review including deep processing strategies, effort regulation, and goal orientations. The review equally established causality between student’s academic self-efficacy and performance proposing further research on longitudinal intervention-based studies (ibid). In another research, Meral, Colak, and Zereyak (2012) established a relationship between academic self-efficacy beliefs of students with effort, task choice, achievement, and resilience – which are all contributory factors to the student’s academic performance. Additionally, a student’s sense of academic self-efficacy and academic motivation are important predictors of academic performance. Students who have high self-efficacy, related student motivations and a sense of purpose towards their learning were had their academic success significantly affected (Dogan, 2015). Schools have to formulate engagement programs for them to enhance the performance of low self-efficacy students.
Recognising the multidimensional nature of self-efficacy is important. Being context dependent, a substantial sense of self-efficacy in a given domain may not automatically translate to having a comparable level in other fields (Meera & Jumana, 2015). Additionally, there are different levels of self-efficacy beliefs occurring in the various contexts within the same domain. It, therefore, means that students may exhibit different levels of the effects of academic self-efficacy on their academic performance. There are those who will perform exceptionally well while others will perform moderately well yet they both show a high sense of academic self-efficacy. However, this does not water down the consensus concerning the positive correlation between academic self-efficacy and academic performance (Meera & Jumana, 2015). It is nevertheless important to understand the different levels of self-efficacy beliefs within the same domain to determine their impact on the academic performance of any one student, effectively. The process of establishing and making use of self-efficacy beliefs is generally intuitive, and therefore an individual’s future academic performance often depends on their past performance and the expectations of their achievements. Expectedly, this helps in explaining the difference in student performance even when the students exhibit similar abilities.
The Current Research of Academic Self-Efficacy
In his ecological studies on the role of self-efficacy awareness on the personal and academic development of adolescents, Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as an individual’s confidence in his or her ability to plan and act in a manner to achieve a specific set of goals (Urden & Parajes, 2006). However, Artino (2012) and Fosse et al., (2015) describe self-efficacy as self-confidence that is highly task-specific. Additionally, the ideology of self-efficacy has been a critical element in the theories of motivation and learning in different settings (Brown, 2010). As a result, researchers in the education sector have taken up phenomenon to foretell and expound several human operations ranging from academic to athletic successes. However, it is the increasing attention that self-efficacy in the field of academic achievements and accomplishments over the past one and a half decade that is of interest.
According to Artino (2012), the idea of academic self-efficacy has been developed from the widespread attention towards self-efficacy and researchers have defined academic self-efficacy as the belief among individual students that they can accomplish specific goals and objectives in academics. Additionally, to develop further the ideology of academic self-efficacy, researchers have identified the various decisive factors for academic self-efficacy and the ideology’s function in the lives of students. Among the main critical factors include vicarious experiences (Artino, 2012) and verbal coercion from other people (Kerr, 2009). However, persuasion may not be sufficient to produce long-lasting growth in self-efficacy if it the only factor depended on. Self-efficacy serves different roles including the promotion of resilience in education (Herpen et al., 2017) and the facilitation of mediation between consciousness and academic achievement (Fosse et al., 2015).
Irrespective of the extensive research on academic self-efficacy and its role in education, several inconsistencies still exist in the study. For starters, most of the studies on the subject concentrated on left-behind children in China or the academic self-efficacy in the time period ranging between 2004 and 2017. For instance, the survey by Yufang (2004) focused on academic self-efficacy while Su et al. (2012) evaluated the psychological modification among left-behind children in rural China.
It is evident that the research on the subject has dealt with academic self-efficacy and left-behind children independently. There is no quality empirical research on the academic self-efficacy of left-behind children in China. However, there is prominent evidence that there is a correlation between academic self-efficacy and the performance and life of left-behind children in China. This study, therefore, aims to offer the conceivable plenary for further studies on Chinese left-behind children.
Left-behind Children in Rural China
The term ‘left-behind children’ is used to refer to children who stay in bucolic homes of China as one or both of their parents leave to find and work in the cities for at least 6 consecutive months. According to Xiao (2014), parents often leave their children with their relatives who are often grandparents and friends living in the rural areas of China. One out of ten of China’s populations is believed to be migrants who move from China’s rural areas to the urban region of the nation (Xiao, 2014). Many of these parents leave their children behind in their rural homes in the care of their grandparents but do not take an active part in their education or upbringing (Gao et al., 2010). Most of LBCs only manage to get in touch with their parents through messages and calls while getting a once-in-a-year opportunity to meet them face to face during the Spring Festival Holiday (Cheng & Sun, 2014). The children are ‘left-behind’ as the villages in which they remain have inadequate social infrastructures compared to those found in town, and they obtain insufficient parental care (Wang & Lewin, 2016). They, therefore, suffer the consequences of low standards of living and high instances of neglect.
China has the most significant number of left-behind children because of parents moving away into the city in search of better paying job opportunities. According to a survey published in the South China Morning Post, there are 61 million left-behind children in China (Lau, 2016). It is realized that this is almost the size of the British population. The growing population of these children is now becoming a social problem in China with several tragedies that have shocked both the nation and the world. In as much as there have been intervention efforts by the government and external stakeholders, these children still face extreme challenges in life and are now being referred to by researchers as the lost generation (Hellmann, 2015). Due to the lack of direct parental involvement in their daily lives, these children suffer several consequences ranging from psychological through physical, mental and other social challenges.
LBC’s Academic Aspects
In as much as the academic aptitudes of left-behind children equal those of the non-left-behind children, it is evident that the former faces more challenges that are educational-related. Among the challenges, there is an inclusion of the inadequate provision of the essential educational materials and resources by the parents for the left-behind children in China (Burnette et al., 2013). Parents are supposed to provide both tangible and intangible resources to their children during the course of their education in order to support their learning. The tangible resources include books, school uniform among other physical materials that the school may require of parents. However, it is the intangible resources such as moral support and parental guidance that the left-behind children lack the most.
Left-behind children also suffer substantial security threats both in their homes and on their way to school. Additionally, the emotional insecurity that these children suffer may significantly interfere with the level of self-efficacy they demonstrate (Zhao & Liao, 2016). In as much as China is known for its efforts to become a tech giant, it still suffers security challenges like any other developing nation (Yang, 2010). These challenges interfere with the school attendance of rural students. Coupled with the low level of self-efficacy among the students; left-behind children record poor educational outcomes that include high school dropout rates, reduced motivation to further their education and generally poor performance (Xiao, 2014).
Moreover, left-behind children often experience a lack of role models in the villages (Senaratna, 2012). Since most of the people they interact with are their peers or the older generation with their parents working far away in the city, they have no one to look up to for inspiration. The rural families that were relatively affluent are able to afford to send their children to county-level school while those who are poor are only able to send their children to rural schools that are closest to them. The lack of role models and motivation to further their education leads to reduced performance among the left-behind children (Senaratna, 2012). Effectively, the difference in academic aspects between left-behind children and non-left-behind children in China persists. In as much as these studies point to the troubled nature of left-behind children’s learning, there is need to realize the existence of unrelated experimental research toward dealing with these educational challenges.
Children left behind by foreign and migrant parents are even worse off in their educational achievement compared to those growing up with both their parents. Lu (2014) argues that internal migration of parents plays a deleterious role in some of the cases, but their effects are not as adverse like those witnessed with international movement (Lu, 2014). However, in what seems to be as a deviatory tangent in research on the impact of parental migration on the education of left-behind children, Kong and Meng (2010) aver that economic literature established a positive relationship between parental movement and the educational outcomes of their children (Kong & Meng, 2010). Several factors have been linked to more Chinese parents leaving their children behind in search of better-paying jobs. According to Ming (2013), many parents usually leave their children behind to cut on expenses in town and due to the availability of caregivers in the name of their elderly parents. Goldstein and Goldstein (1986) argue that an effect of the one-child policy in China is the significant growth in the number of the older people in this society. However, people from the rural areas were critical of the policy and, therefore, would bear more than one child for security purposes during their old age. It is this elderly population that can no longer participate in productive work that is left to tend to these left-behind children while their parents are out looking for work in the cities and towns.
LBC’s Family Environment
The migration of parents of the left-behind children in China has affected Family structures and operations. Additionally, Hong (2013) argues that the growth of feminism and women liberation in China has challenged the traditional role of women as homemakers leading to the increased movement of mothers to cities to secure employment (Hong, 2013). Families that have seen mothers go to the city leaving fathers behind impose the roles of child caring which is traditionally feminine on men. The mothers, on the other hand, become the ‘breadwinners’ of their respective families – roles that were a traditional reserve for fathers (Burnette et al., 2013). The family challenge is compounded when both parents have to leave the children alone as the children are forced to assume the increased responsibilities. This may effectively interfere with their ability to enjoy their childhood and develop important self-efficacy elements that are important in their academic lives.
While the role of nuclear families in child development is important, left-behind children are forced to forego the life and experiences of nuclear family for as long as their parents are away at work (Fengbo et al., 2016). The nuclear family system in the Chinese society is often weakened and its importance in child development negatively affected by either or both of parents having to leave home to work in cities and towns. The role of bringing up the children is vested in grandparents or in extreme circumstances to friends who are not in any way related to the children. In as much as leaving children to grandparents and friends may help foster the importance of the extended family and the community at large (Fengbo, et al., 2016), there is empirical evidence that left-behind children left to the care of relatives and friends suffer lack of family support that is often enjoyed by their non-left-behind peers (Zhao et al., 2014). Concisely, left-behind children lack normal parental love as well as the opportunities to communicate with their parents personally.
The family environment is an important determinant of a child’s self-concept. The home environment which encompasses the family structure and the social class influence the child’s ability to develop a belief in himself or herself including their attributes and who and what the self is (Song & Hattie,1984). However, to develop this concept, the children need some level of guidance from their parents or caregivers. However, a systematic review of the literature by Wang et al. (2015) found that left-behind children exhibited a much lower score of self-concept and higher levels of psychological challenges that their counterparts who were living with both parents. Among the factors that the researchers associated with self-concept in left-behind children, include grade, age, gender and the relationships that these children had with their parents, guardians, and teachers. With a low level of self-concept, it is believed that left-behind children are susceptible to the development of mental and psychological challenges. It is highly related to the problem of dysfunctional families in the development of children (Neff & McGehee, 2010). In this case, since the left-behind children are unable to create meaningful relationships with their parents, just like in dysfunctional families, they cannot effectively develop their self-concept.
LBC’s Psychological Development
Left-behind children are more susceptible to psychological challenges than their non-left-behind counterparts. The children are likely to suffer mental distress due to separation from their parents (Graham & Jordan, 2011). While taking into consideration the confounding factors, the researchers found that left-behind children whose fathers away were prone to mental [and psychological] distress than those whose mothers were away working (ibid). As young Chinese men migrate to towns and cities in search of better-paying jobs, their children pay the greatest price for their parents’ economic benefits. Parental guidance is required during childhood, and adolescent stage and left-behind children are unable to obtain this important support during their growth and, therefore, do not fully develop psychologically (Jingzhong, 2011). However, due to the presence of both parents for the non-left-behind children, they are able to obtain all the support and guidance they need as they grow up and therefore effectively develop their psychological capacity.
Due to the lack of parental companionship, left-behind children are exposed to more psychological problems compared within non-left-behind children. Man, Mengmeng, Lezhi, Ting and Jingping (2017) deciphered that the mental development of left-behind children is affected [negatively] by factors that would be easily controlled by the presence of their parents. Among the factors identified include social support, self-esteem, and family caring directly influence the psychological development of children. However, due to the lack of the support provided by parents, left-behind children are unable to develop psychologically effectively.
Due to the length of time, left-behind children are isolated from their parents, and they tend to suffer an inferiority complex, interpersonal disorder, psychological aversion and deviation between personality and behaviour. Psychological aversion refers to the emotional or psychological response to a stimulus that demonstrates that an organism, object or situation needs to be avoided (Chang et al., 2011). It often goes together with the desire to withdraw from or totally avoid the aversive stimulus. The motivating reasons for the development of psychological aversion include prolonged absence of parents’ education, unsuitable education by guardians, corrupt social education and insufficient school education (Shen & Shen, 2014). All these can be avoided if parents become more present in the lives of their children as well as in their education process because all children are prone to becoming attached to their parents.
However, the presence of mitigating factors may positively impact on the psychological development of left-behind children. The mitigating factors that have the potential of positively influencing the psychological outcomes of left-behind children include increased parental contact, the presence of one parent and shorter length of time since the parents migrated to town (Sun et al., 2015). Additionally, school-interventions may have a significant influence on the psychological development of left-behind children; however, the rural schools are not spacious enough to facilitate such intervention programs. Due to ineffective psychological development among the left-behind children, they exhibit psychological challenges that range from total difficulties to specific expressions (Van Luot & Dat, 2017). Comparatively to non-left-behind children, left-behind children exhibit particular expressions including emotional symptoms, hyperactivity and inattention, peer relationship challenges and conduct issues. These may ultimately impact the academic self-efficacy of these children both temporarily and permanently especially if not addressed.
LBC’s Social Aspects
The social cost of the left-behind children in rural China is far-reaching if reports in the media and empirical data are dependent [and accurate] enough. According to Teo (2016), there are reports, which are simply a tip of the iceberg on the social aspects of left-behind children in China. For example, there are four siblings aged between 5 and 13 that killed themselves from pesticide ingestion in 2015 and 5 other left-behind boys who died of poisoning from carbon monoxide after lighting fire during winter for warmth purposes. In their study, Chang et al. (2017) found that suicide attempt prevalence among left-behind children was much higher than among the non-left-behind children in China’s rural areas (Chang et al., 2017). However, several factors may exacerbate the prevalence of suicide attempts among this group including neglect, negative life events, parenting styles, physical abuse, and loneliness. However, Chang et al. (2017) depict that the identification of these [risk] factors among left-behind children may play a substantial role in developing intervention programs.
However, it is notable that death is the extreme case of the social cost of left-behind children in rural China. These children are prone to other challenges as well including the risk of violence and abuse. Since most of these children are likely to drop out of school, there is a high probability that without proper social support mechanisms, they may resort to a life of crime and violence to fend for themselves (Yeoh & Lam, 2007). Parental care plays an indisputable role(s) in facilitating the stay of children in schools as well as avoiding involvement in any criminal activities. Since the left-behind children do not experience first-hand parent care, therefore, they are more prone and susceptible to criminal tendencies (Winterdyk, 2014). This lead to the cyclic problem of insecurity in the rural areas and a lack of role models thus compounding the challenges faced by left-behind children.
Again, there are very few institutions in the rural Chinese society, which are capable of furnishing effective assistance on juveniles’ and children’s development. This is due to lack of adequate grass-root organisations that would be instrumental in the development of children community educational programs (Shen & Shen, 2014). Consequently, social education of the left-behind children is still at a vacuum condition in community education, the children, therefore, suffer social exclusion (Hu et al., 2016) and some unhealthy social factors such as peer influence, vulgar works, and modern media have exploited the opportunity to affect the children’s social development. With a weak or total lack of family supervision on the children, these unhealthy social factors may influence the development of undesirable tendencies in these children.
LBCs and Cognitive Aspects
Parental absence at any point in time of the child’s development has an effect on the developmental indicators in children. In their study on adolescents, Yeung and Gu (2016) found a significant relationship between parental absence and insufficient cognitive development among left-behind children in China. This study was done against a control of adolescents staying with their parents who demonstrated a high degree of cognitive development. In their study, Zhang et al. (2014) found much smaller insignificant impacts of being left-behind by one parent on the cognitive development of left-behind children. Through their cross-sectional study, the researchers concluded that only the absence of both parents has a significant impact on cognitive development in left-behind children due to reduced family inputs in after-school tutoring. Drawing on data from a 2009 survey on grade 4 and 5 pupils in Ningxia and Qinghai; researchers found that the negative effect of having a migrant parent on a child’s cognitive development is larger and more significant with a migrant mother than with a migrant father (Zhao et al., 2014).
Cognitive development is often measured in children in terms of their educational performance. Children with poor cognitive skills often perform poorly in academic math tests. In a study on left-behind children in Viet Nam and India, Liu, Yu, and Zheng (2017) found a significant relationship between parental migration and ineffective development of cognitive ability in children. Parental involvement in their children’s lives is an important home input in the children’s human capital production, and therefore the mere presence of parents at home provides the children with companionship and encouragement leading to the children becoming more fecund in school. Ren and Trieman (2016) found that children with strong parental support at home often develop strong cognitive and non-cognitive skills as the parent’s supervisory and monitoring role in ensuring that their children finish their homework assignments and make up for missed classes is central to their children’s cognitive development. A study on Vietnamese children with migrant parents found that these left-behind children spend less time on study at home but more time on playing and leisure (Nguyen, 2016). This demonstrates the importance of parental presence in the children’s participation in activities that would develop their cognitive skills.
LBC and Physical Aspects
Apart from mental and psychological care, children also need physical care from their parents. Therefore, children whose parents are not available to provide them with the physical care that they need are likely to develop physical challenges some of which arise from an inferiority complex. Shen and Shen (2014) argue that as soon as the sense of inferiority complex sets in and takes shape in the left-behind children, it will exist in the form of destructive emotional experience that will be exacerbated by the unchangeable nature of the objective environment and subjective cognition thus becoming highly generalised and seriously impacting on the children’s physical health. Additionally, these children suffer other physical problems some of which they met on themselves while others are meted on them by the society in which they live.
Physical intimacy is important in the development of children. Humans are known to practice prosocial behaviour that is characterised by voluntary action meant to benefit others, and touching and physical affection is a substantial part of the prosocial behaviour process. Skin to skin contact and warmth has been shown to enhance weight gain in preterm babies, and touch has the ability to convey several complex emotions including empathy and gratitude (Field et al., 2010). Physical affection towards children is encouraged for purposes of bonding as well as the promotion of development and well-being. In many parents, the display of physical affection towards children is often natural as their helplessness depends on the parents to fulfil their physical needs (Williams et al., 2012). This physical intimacy between parents and their children often proceeds into the adolescent stage with parents holding their children’s hands, giving cuddling and kissing and stroking their hair. This results in stronger family relationships, trust, confidence, and self-efficacy among children. However, left-behind children do not experience this important parent-child relationship in their lives as their parents are away at work and those in whose care the children are left do not have the time or are physically withdrawn from the children due to a myriad of issues (Francis et al., 2014). As a result, lack of [physical] intimacy augurs room for cognitive complications in these children.
Chinese left-behind children are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Some studies have revealed alarming statistics about sexual abuse among children in China. A descriptive study on sexual abuse among Chinese children revealed that 95.2% of sexual abuse victims are girls with the perpetrators of the heinous act being mostly acquaintances in whose care the children are left as their parents migrate to the city for job-hunting (Jiao et al., 2015). While sexual abuse is often physical in nature, the consequences have far-reaching mental and psychological effects that cause cutting behaviours, depression, eating disorders, abuse of substances and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Holzer et al., 2008). Studies have shown that cases of sexual and other physical abuse are even more prevalent in cases where the mother or both parents are away than when only the father is away (Senaratna, 2015). Additionally, while the caregivers with whom the left-behind children stay are aware of the abuses faced by migrants’ children, the extent of the abuses as well as the consequences, they rarely report due to institutional and societal factors. Effectively, the children grow up in constant fear and lack of trust which often affects their adult lives.
LBCs in other Countries
Apart from China, other countries are equally grappling with the challenge of left-behind children. Countries such as India, Singapore, Albania, Philippines and even America experience the challenge of left-behind children. In as much as the migration of Albanian parents from rural areas to towns has economic benefits for their children, the lack of parental care and presence in their children’s life may negatively impact on the development of their children (Giannelli & Mangiavacchi, 2010). In the Philippines, left-behind Filipino children suffer social costs of their parents’ migrations. In their research on Filipino mothers, Madianou and Miller (2011) argue that ‘parenting via the phone’ may have revolutionised the role of parents in their children’s lives, it may have long-term negative consequences in the psychological and social development of their children.
Another study that involved caregivers of left-behind children in North Vietnam, the researchers questioned the manner in which the families of migrant parents are sustained across transnational spaces. In their study of Northern Vietnamese caregivers and left-behind children, Hoang and Yeoh (2012) found that both the caregivers and left-behind children did not approve of their parents leaving them but had no choice but to let the parents pursue their career and work aspirations. In America, despite the no child left behind the legislation, Finkel (2010) argues that many black parents still leave their children behind in search of better-paying jobs in the cities. As observed, this has an effect on the increase in delinquents among the American black population.
There is still a lot of debate in the existing research on whether parental migration negatively affects the lives of left-behind children. However, these studies present several deficiencies. Most researchers approach their research from a problem viewpoint, and therefore they focus more on the negative effects of parents’ migration on left-behind children (Xiao, 2014). Secondly, scholars in most Chinese researchers have employed quantitative methods exemplified by the application of nonrandomised sampling strategies (Qin & Albin, 2010). Additionally, there has been incessant lack of consistency and valid measuring instruments which have cumulatively impacted on the validity of the results of these studies.
Another deficiency in the existing studies is the lack of special attention on the specific cultural and social backgrounds that are prevalent in China. Additionally, most of these researchers primarily focus on the role(s) of relocation on these children (Xiao, 2014). Most of the researchers reviewed in this paper lean towards regarding the left-behind children as the passive victims of their parents’ migration. They do not, however, make an attempt at interrogating the possible involvement of the children in their parents’ decision to migrate. Additionally, available research focusing on the consequences of parental migration on Chinese children’s education and other health outcomes are scarce and are usually rely on a small sample of data often collected in a limited geographic area (Shi, 2005; Han, 2003; Chen, 2007). This, therefore, limits the level of intervention that can be instituted to correct the negative effects that these left-behind children have to deal with in the absence of their parents. These deficiencies, therefore, present a research gap concerning the use of more valid research instruments and approaching the study from a positivist perspective. It is in a bid to demonstrate the effects of parental migration on children and the ways that this academic self-efficacy of these left-behind children differs from their non-left-behind peers.
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