Our research revealed both positive and negative aspects of parents' aspiration for their children's academic performance. Although parental aspiration can help improve children's academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous.
Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Reading
Turns out all that loving support from moms and dads, who let their kids know that they have high hopes for their academic success, can backfire — big time.
According to a new study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, when parents aspired for their child to get higher grades than they expected the student would actually get, the teen’s performance tanked. “Much of the previous literature conveyed a simple, straightforward message to parents — aim high for your children and they will achieve more,” the study’s lead author Kou Murayama, a professor of psychology at the University of Reading in England, explained in a press release. But that wasn’t what he found in his research — on more than 3,500 teens over the course of five years, looking at students’ math grades each year along with parents’ assessment of how much they want their child to earn a specific grade and to what degree they believe that the teenager will do so. “Unrealistically high aspiration,” he added, “may hinder academic performance.”
In fact, all that well-meaning cheerleading that can help boost a kid’s grades, can be downright “poisonous” if it is “excessive,” he said. “There are parents who put a lot of pressure [on kids] to get good grades even if it is very difficult for the children to get such a high grade,” Murayama tells Yahoo Parenting. “They tend not to look at children as they are but as their ideal children.”
Figuring out what’s realistic isn’t as tricky as it may sound, though. Linda Houser, president of The Association of Teacher Educators, tells that it is simply a matter of putting academic achievement in perspective. “What we see from parents is that ‘A’ is the grade that everyone is expecting their child to receive if they’ve studied and worked hard but it’s just not the case that that will happen,” she says. “Over the years what an ‘A’ means has changed too. It used to be considered above and beyond and only a very few received it. Now, it’s almost become the normal grade expected. That’s why we see ‘A+’ grades now and grade inflation.”
Top results on standardized test scores are often expected by parents as well, she adds. “But the way these tests are structured, you’re always going to have people in the lower quartiles,” says Houser. “Many parents think that their kids always have to be at the top yet they can’t all be.”
Flawless homework assignments are another off-base target. “Obviously children are learning,” she says. “If they already knew all this, there wouldn’t be any reason to have the learning experience. Sometimes, parents don’t realize that homework is about practicing a new idea and students may not be perfect at it the first few times. Learning takes time and to always strive for your child to ‘get it’ easily and perfectly the first time is not only unrealistic, it doesn’t benefit the child because they don’t get the experience of investigating the concepts, practicing and improving on it.”
Even the expectation of active class participation every day can be over the top, Houser adds. “Every child is a different and unique human being. Some learn by listening and thinking. Sure we want them to participate but that may look different from raising their hand each time and volunteering to answer every question. Sometimes it’s the quiet student who may be thinking and using her critical skills the best.”
So before parents spell out specific academic achievements that they hope their teens will achieve, Houser urges moms and dads: “Base your expectations on the student’s personal strengths and their individual areas of encouragement.” That, she says, is A+ parenting.
The recent study supports the data received from the previous researches, and have well-grounded theoretical perspectives, helping parents not to overestimate their kids capabilities, willpower, and not setup the level of expectations so high that it might become dangerous both for the students and their parents. That is true – it is not good for your kid, it is not good for you!
When a child does not perform according to expectations, the parent's stress level rises. Changes occur in the parent's behavior—extra doses of impatient body English and insistent harshness in the voice, for instance—, which become setting events for deviant behavior by the child. When you bear down harder, in other words, you increase the likelihood that your child will escape and avoid your authority, which will inspire you to bear down even harder, and so on. The spiral of escalation twists up and up, sometimes to the point that a parent loses it and ends up doing something normally unthinkable—slapping small children, for instance, for failing to nap when they're supposed to.
When we enforce unreasonable expectations, and especially when we punish according to them, we put stress on kids, who respond by avoiding, escaping, and becoming irritable. Ironically, that puts them off whatever activity, skill, or virtue we are trying to inculcate, making it aversive rather than attractive.
At the same time, parental expectations can have a strong, positive effect on children’s academic success. In a study conducted published by the Harvard Family Research project, Professor William H. Jeynes of California State University at Long Beach found that parental expectations affected children’s academic outcomes more than other types of parental involvement, including attendance of school events and clear rules. Thus, establishing healthy academic expectations and communicating these expectations to kids can be an important key to fostering success in school.
So, the key is moderation – be reasonable with your expectation. Be a loving parent – listen to your child, do not ignore verbal and non-verbal signs of tiresomeness and exhaustion. Be reasonable, evaluating your kids’ capabilities, and try to highlight the strong traits, leading to the right choice of the area of application in the future. If your kid is not good in chemistry, do not hope him or her to become the Nobel Prize winner in the field. May be, programming will be better target application?
We always try to do what we consider as the best for our kids. Sometimes, we really overdo on our efforts, potentially affecting their happy childhood and youth and converting them to the adults, recovering from tough childhood experience on therapy sessions. What your kids need most of all is unconditional love. Please do not hide your real feeling – let your kids know that you love them!
Sources and Additional Information: