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Keywords:

  • happiness;
  • left-behind children;
  • life and academic satisfaction;
  • loneliness;
  • parent–child communication

Abstract

Background

Left-behind children refer to those rural children who are under 18 years of age and are left at home when both or one of their parents migrate to urban area for work. Recent findings showed that left-behind children were disadvantaged by developmental, emotional and social problems.

Method

A sample of 1165 rural children and adolescents were recruited to examine the characteristics of left-behind children and explore the differences in psychological adjustment (including satisfaction, loneliness and happiness) by patterns of parental migration (i.e. no parent migrating, one parent migrating or two parents migrating) and the level of parent–child communication in rural China.

Results

(1) Compared with children with one parent migrating, children with two parents migrating were separated from their parents at younger ages, for longer periods, and saw their migrant parents less frequently. (2) Children with two parents migrating reported the lowest level of satisfaction among the three groups of rural children. Both groups of children with one or two parents migrating experienced more loneliness compared with children with no parent migrating. There were no significant differences in school satisfaction and happiness among the three groups. (3) The children who reported a higher level of parent–child communication also reported a higher level of life and school satisfaction and happiness, and no differences in loneliness were found by levels of parent–child communication.

Conclusions

These results indicate that loneliness was the most common and important experience of left-behind children. Parent–child communication is important for the development of all rural children, including those who were left behind by their migrant parents.