Young children are inherently motivated to do well in school. When children enter high school, they have developed a sense of identity and tend to motivate themselves academically based on their own desires, goals and external influences. However, during middle school, many children lose interest in educational pursuits and are otherwise distracted or deterred by external conditions. Family problems, socialization, and peer pressures can all negatively impact a child’s motivation during this critical time. But recent research, conducted by Cecilia Sin-Sze Cheung of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, suggests that parental commitment during a child’s middle school experience, via motivation and involvement, can significantly increase their incentive to achieve well academically.
Another factor of exploration for Cheung was that of cultural differences across the parenting domain. Namely, she was interested in finding out if Chinese parents, who place strict emphasis on education and discipline, would positively influence their children’s motivation more than American parents. For her study, Cheung followed 825 Chinese and American adolescents through their seventh- and eighth-grade careers and found that the more involved the parents were in their children’s school experiences, the more engaged and motivated the children were. Additionally, across both cultures, the children who felt their parents were committed to their learning exhibited higher levels of achievement and self-regulated academic adherence.
Cheung believes there are many reasons for these results. First, children who see their parents demonstrating attention and involvement to them may feel the need to reciprocate by meeting their parents’ expectations. These same children may be compelled to perform well in order to maintain their parents’ attention and gain approval and support from them. Secondly, there were no significant differences in the achievement levels of Chinese or American children, which led Cheung to theorize that regardless of the type of motivation and control exhibited by parents, the effect is the same on children. In essence, children who perceive their parents as encouraging, supportive, and involved are more motivated to excel academically than those whose parents are less involved. Cheung added, “It appears that parents’ involvement shapes children’s achievement by promoting not only autonomous reasons for learning among children but also parent-oriented reasons that are of import in maintaining children’s engagement in school and achievement during the early adolescent years—a time when children often lack interest in school.”
Cheung, C. S.-S., Pomerantz, E. M. (2012, February 13). Why Does Parents’ Involvement Enhance Children’s Achievement? The Role of Parent-Oriented Motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027183
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