Unanticipated Educational Consequences of a Positive Parent-Child Relationship

By Turley, Ruth N. López; Desmond, Matthew et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Unanticipated Educational Consequences of a Positive Parent-Child Relationship


Turley, Ruth N. López, Desmond, Matthew, Bruch, Sarah K., Journal of Marriage and Family


If today there exists a single transcendent idea about the family-school connection, it is that a positive parent-child relationship improves children's chances of succeeding in school. However, using data from the Texas Higher Education Opportunity Project (N = 5,836), we demonstrate that, although positive parent-child relations are associated with better academic achievement in high school, they also are associated with an increased desire to live at home during college, which in turn decreases students' chances of enrolling in a 4-year college. Furthermore, we replicated some of these associations using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 10,120), demonstrating that positive family dynamics can influence educational outcomes in potentially divergent and unanticipated directions.

Key Words: academic achievement, college enrollment, college residence, parent-child relations.

If today there exists a single clear and transcendent idea about the family-school connection, it is that a "good" family - one that comprises, at minimum, a parent or parents with a positive relationship with their children - helps one to succeed in this world. Nowhere is this more salient than in notions of the intimate connection between family dynamics and educational achievement and attainment. Psychologists long have claimed that nurturing parenting styles bolster children's competence and success in school (Baldwin, 1948; Sears et al., 1957). And at least since the publication of Parsons and Bales's (1955) Family, socialization and interaction process, sociologists have underscored a positive association between an affirming family life and children's well-being, including their adult quality of life.

When parents actively involve themselves in their children's lives - when they monitor their progress, pay attention to their moods and struggles, and communicate openly and frequently with them - their children reap high educational rewards (Heymann & Earle, 2000; Mullis, Rathge, & Mullis, 2003). Positive parenting techniques can soften the negative effects of economic disadvantage (Crosnoe, Mistry, & Elder, 2002), and a secure and emotionally healthy home life facilitates students' success in the classroom (Durkin, 1995). Studies have demonstrated that the frequency of parent-to-child communication and the encouraging nature of that communication are strongly correlated with children's intellectual development, language acquisition, and academic achievement (Brooks-Gunn & Markman, 2005; Hart & Risley, 1995). The academic achievement of children with neglectful parents, in contrast, is far lower than that of students whose parents are involved in their development (Jeynes, 2005; Muller, 1993). In a related vein, the literature finds a positive association between familism and educational aspirations and expectations (Pribesh & Downey, 1999; Quian & Blair, 1999). Researchers have found that, when it comes to educational outcomes, familism mitigates the negative experiences associated with minority status (Ream, 2005; Zhou & Bankston, 1998); and some have documented a positive relationship between familism and high school completion among at-risk youth (Furstenberg & Hughes, 1995). The social scientific evidence points to a clear conclusion: Students benefit considerably from a positive, well-developed relationship with their parents.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the vast majority of studies investigating the link between the parent-child relationship and educational outcomes has concentrated on academic achievement at the primary and secondary levels, when most children are attending school while living with their parents. It is well documented that a strong parent-child relationship helps students excel in primary and secondary school, but is it associated with positive educational outcomes beyond secondary school? The few studies addressing this question overwhelmingly have explored the link between family resources (e. …

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