5 ways parents can help teens excel in school

"Parents should always be involved," says  Ming-Te Wang, "but they need to give great thought as to how they are involved and the manner in which they stay involved as the child ages." (Credit: Gabriela Pinto/Flickr)

Parents who think they can take a step back from interacting with teachers once their kids are in high school should think again.

A new study shows that teenagers whose parents stay involved in their child’s education through the secondary school years are more likely to have positive academic, behavioral, and emotional outcomes.

Parental engagement has been widely recognized as important in the elementary school years, but up until now it has been unclear if parental involvement was as significant in secondary school, researchers say.


“Our research has found that quality parental involvement is not as simple as more is better or less is more at any one point in a child’s life,” says Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education at University of Pittsburgh.

“It is far more complex than that, and there are many variables that go into how parents interact with their children over time. The key findings here are that parents should always be involved, but they need to give great thought as to how they are involved and the manner in which they stay involved as the child ages.”

Published in the journal Child Development, the study included more than 1,400 families in the Eastern United States. Researchers used questionnaires and interviews to gather information from a selection of teenagers in the 7th, 9th, and 11th grades and their parents. African Americans comprised 56 percent of participants while European Americans made up 39 percent.

Five ways parents can get involved

Wang’s team assessed the effects of five types of parental involvement on academic, behavioral, and mental health outcomes:

  1. frequency of communication between parents and teachers
  2. quality of communication between parents and teachers
  3. extent to which parents encouraged children to figure out their own solutions to homework
  4. structure parents established at home in the form of schedules and guidelines for studying
  5. extent to which parents discussed with their children the importance of education in future success.

The results

  • Academics: All five types of parental involvement were associated with improvements in GPA from 7th to 11th grade. Additionally, the findings showed that high levels of parental structure in the home were particularly beneficial for African Americans and students from low-income families.
  • Behavior: Frequency of parent-teacher communication, home structure, and linking education with future success were associated with decreased overall problem behaviors for adolescents.
  • Emotional Outcomes: Lower depressive symptoms in adolescents were linked with the quality of communication between parents and teachers, the extent to which parents challenged students to figure out their own solutions to homework, and the linking of education to future success. Also, the level of parental warmth within the home played a significant role in developing emotional well-being across all races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Our findings highlight the importance of adapting the level and nature of parental involvement in education to adolescents’ changing psychological needs,” Wang says.

“What worked in elementary school may not work in secondary school, and what works for adolescents in secondary school depends on what outcome is of interest or in need of attention. These results pave the way for developing targeted interventions and for providing strategic support to families and their adolescents.”

Nancy E. Hill, a professor of education at Harvard University and Tara Hofkens, a graduate researcher at Pitt’s Learning Research and Development Center were coauthors of the study.

Source: University of Pittsburgh