Parental involvement is the primary factor in the academic success of your child, but not for the reasons you might think.

  • We picture good parents hunched over a book reading to their child.
  • We see parents volunteering in the classroom, getting involved in the day-to-day education of their child.
  • We envision good parents answering homework questions, spending the time it takes to help a child learn.

Certainly these are the practices of an effective parent. However, they describe only part of what an effective parent does for his or her child’s education – perhaps not even the most important part.

Sustained engagement

In fact, compelling research shows that effective parental involvement addresses what is the most important factor in academically successful children: engagement.

By this, we mean that a child is fully involved in the learning process – motivated, enthusiastic and responsible.

Engagement describes a student in whatever education setting he or she is in, whether public, private, home-school or any other.

Sparking your child’s interest and enthusiasm in learning, and keeping that fire lit, might be the most important thing you do for your child’s education.

Author and researcher Laurence Steinberg makes this argument in his book Beyond the Classroom. More important than school reform, school choice or education spending, the real challenge before us is this question: Can we keep our kids interested and motivated in the learning process over many years?

Causes for disengagement

Disengagement from school is not simply an educational problem but a general barometer of adolescent attitudes. Studies clearly show that lack of interest in school is highly correlated with other, more worrisome indicators of teenage difficulty, including drug and alcohol use, depression, delinquency and sexual activity.

Intuitively, we know there is a connection between a child’s engagement in school and what is going on in the rest of his or her life. In fact, engagement is more important than ability or intelligence.

Is it possible to identify the factors in students’ lives that encourage them to work hard, maintain high standards, worry about the consequences of failing in school and accept personal responsibility for their successes and failures? What motivates them? What causes them to disengage?

The importance of parents

The research confirms what we know deep down inside to be true – Parents exert a profound and lasting effect on their children’s achievement in school in at least three ways:

  1. They communicate certain messages to their child – intentionally and inadvertently – about school and learning.
  2. They model the relative value of school through their behaviour (by volunteering, attending school functions, helping with their child’s homework, etc.).
  3. Most important, through the general atmosphere at home, these parents employ an authoritative parenting style (as opposed to authoritarian, which is high control and dictatorial).

The importance of peer groups

Here is where it gets especially interesting. The research tells us that peer groups determine what values a child will have toward education. So, parents who make sure their child’s social peer group values education direct their child toward academic success.

When parents knowingly or unknowingly abdicate the decision about whom their child hangs out with, they find themselves almost powerless to help their child succeed in school.

So, where you live is important, but not for the reason you might think. It may not be simply the quality of the teachers in a certain school that makes it a desirable place to send your child. It’s more about the quality of the students – where the students value academic success.

From the Focus on the Family website ( © 2003 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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