Perceptions of Autonomy Support, Parent Attachment, Competence and Self-Worth as Predictors of Motivational Orientation and Academic Achievement: An Examination of Sixth- and Ninth-Grade Regular Education Students

Article excerpt

A growing body of literature supports an association between students' motivation and socializing agents (i.e., parents and teachers). Specifically, numerous studies have shown that students' perceptions of positive relationships with parents and teachers contribute to success in academic settings. In general, higher achievement and motivation have been linked to such interpersonal variables as parent attachment (Jacobson & Hoffman, 1997; Learner & Kruger, 1997), parent involvement (Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993; Grolnick, Ryan, & Deci, 1991; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994), parental autonomy support (Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993; Grolnick, Ryan, & Deci, 1991; Wiest, Wong, & Cusick, 1997), and teacher autonomy support (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987; Skinner, Wellborn, & Connell, 1990; Wentzel, 1997; Wiest, Wong, & Cusick, 1997). In addition, intrapersonal variables such as perceived competence (Harter, 1981; Stipek, 1988), perceived control (Connell, 1985; Skinner, Wellborn, & Connell, 1990), and perceived autonomy support ( Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994; Ryan, Stiller, & Lynch, 1994; Wentzel, 1997) have been shown to affect young adolescents' achievement and motivation. Finally, researchers have also identified systematic links between these interpersonal and intrapersonal variables (Grolnick, Ryan, & Deci, 1991; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994; Wiest, Wong, & Cusick, 1997).

Parent Attachment

Attachment research has demonstrated that children's attachment to their primary caregiver provides a supportive framework from which they can explore the environment and master the challenges within that environment (Ainsworth, 1982; Bowlby, 1988). Further, there is evidence that attachment relationships beyond early childhood (i.e., adolescence) may continue to serve a similar purpose, providing a secure base from which the early adolescent can explore the environment (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987). These relationships become relevant in regard to young adolescents' academic achievement and motivation. For example, adolescents' secure parental attachment may allow them to achieve a sense of academic competence, as well as actual school achievement, by providing them with a secure emotional foundation. Early adolescents may also perceive themselves more positively, as well as more competent, by virtue of the strength and security of the attachment relationship (Eccles & Midgley, 1990; Paterson, Field, & Pryor, 1994).

Adolescence is popularly characterized as a life stage involving greater separation and independence from parents. However, Collins (1990) has suggested that the relationship between parents and early adolescents instead undergoes a transformation in which roles change. In this sense, the parent-adolescent attachment relationship is renegotiated rather than ended. Similarly, Paterson, Field, and Pryor (1994) found that early adolescents utilize their parents more often than friends for support, when compared to older adolescents. These researchers also found that, even as attachments to peers became more intense, both younger and older adolescents sought support from parents and continued to consider parents as important people in their lives.

Support from, and attachment to, parents can be especially beneficial when youths make the transition from elementary school to junior high school. This transition can generate new stresses and challenges, and having a secure base and a sense of emotional security may ease the difficulty of this process. However, few studies have examined the parent-adolescent attachment relationship during this transition. One study (Papini & Roggman, 1992) found that youths who reported strong attachment relationships with their parents also reported less physical and social anxiety during the transition to junior high school. In other words, the emotional and psychological support these early adolescents directly received from parents worked to buffer the anxieties created by this transition. …