Can Parent Aspirations Harm a Child’s Education?


UK researchers have found that parents’ lofty ambitions for their children are a double-edged sword that can be both beneficial and harmful.

Rick Nauert, Ph.D., writing for PsychCentral, says if parents are realistic about their expectations for their kids they will tend to do better in their academic performance. But if the goal-setting is unrealistic, the result may actually lower performance of the child.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology details how lead author Kou Murayama, Ph.D. of the University of Reading studied information from 2002 to 2007 of 3,530 secondary students in Bavaria, Germany, and their parents. The researchers assessed students’ math performance alongside their mothers’ and fathers’ aspirations (the level at which they want their children to perform) and expectations (how much they believe their child can attain a certain performance level) each year.

High parental aspiration led to increased academic achievement, but only if it did not surmount realistic expectation. When expectation was exceeded by ambition, achievement fell in proportion.

To check their findings, the researchers used data from a two-year study of over 12,000 US students and their parents. The results of the two studies were similar and provided more evidence that levels of high parental aspiration link to worse academic achievement by their kids.

“Much of the previous literature conveyed a simple, straightforward message to parents: Aim high for your children and they will achieve more,” said Murayama. “In fact, getting parents to have higher hopes for their children has often been a goal of programs designed to improve academic performance in schools.”

Murayama adds that the goal of educators should be to assist parents in developing realistic expectations, as summarized in the article’s title: “Don’t Aim Too High for Your Kids: Parental Over-Aspiration Undermines Students’ Learning in Mathematics.”

Children with parents who have higher hopes do better in school than those whose parents have lower aspirations for their children. The study shows, however, that those aspirations have to be realistic, otherwise there is a risk of damaging children’s academic outcomes, writes Sally Weale of The Guardian.

Education experts often suggest that parents be open about expressing their high expectations as a way to boost their children’s performance. But Murayama’s research found that this sort of strategy is oversimplified, writes Brooks Hays for UPI.

In an article by Gavan Naden for The Guardian, Nick Hewlett, a headteacher at St Dunstan’s College in south London, says:

“Parental involvement should be about support, rather than control. A guiding hand and open communication over scheduling and workload will be far more effective than trying to steer directly.”

He adds that some children know this to be true and call their parents on it regularly. Those same children are the ones who will ask for help when they need it.

Naden says compromise is often necessary when guiding young people through the rigors of gaining an education. He uses as an example of a child who wants to listen to music while he is studying. Parents can agree to playing of music without lyrics, perhaps, which is less invasive.

In the end, the “ultimate reward is obtaining the required results,” and that instead of driving the car, perhaps it is wise for parents to consider sharing the driver’s seat.

11 21, 2015
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