The Importance of Parental Involvement in Academic and Personal Development (personal essay written in 2010)
June 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have never been pushed by my parents to achieve great things in life. As a child, my parents didn’t encourage interest in any activities or hobbies, so I had to single-handedly pursue whatever activities I thought worthy of my attention–usually heavily influenced by my friends and peers. I was athletic and coordinated, but was never encouraged to pursue sports and, in fact, was often discouraged from joining athletic teams at school and in the community.
My parents’ lack of involvement in my interests can be illustrated clearly in my taking up of a musical instrument: the piano. While both my parents are very musical–my mother played the piano and sang, while my father played the violin and piano–I was never particularly pushed to pursue music; it came naturally. And so I decided, at the tender young age of eight, to learn to play the piano–just like my mother and father. Some family friends had given us a huge box of piano lesson books, so I took them out and asked my mom to teach me to play the piano. She told me to ask my dad. So I went to my father and asked him to teach me. He was too busy. So I got out one of the piano books for beginners and began trying to figure out how to play the piano on my own. Confused by the little notes and wondering where “middle c” was, I took the book to my father and asked him to just help me get started. I had to practically beg to get him to show me where to place my thumbs on the keyboard and how to count the little dots with stems as “1, 2, 3, and 4.” From then on, I figured everything out on my own. I sometimes practiced for hours a day and sometimes went for weeks without touching the piano. But I eventually worked my way through the lesson books by myself. I became fairly competent at the piano, but I never excelled because my parents weren’t involved or encouraging when it came to my decision to learn to play piano.
And so it has been with every other area of my life. Because my parents haven’t been particularly interested in what interests me, my life is splintered and unfocused. I became a sensationalist, moving from one interest or activity to another and then back again, never really accomplishing anything. Even now that I am almost twenty years old, I don’t really know what I like or what I want to do with my life. I have no realistic, achievable goals and no accomplishments that I can point to and be proud of. I have mediocre interests in so many different things that I can never get anything meaningful done.
My own parents have not taken a highly involved stance when it comes to the personal and academic interests of myself and my two younger sisters. Not surprisingly, they are far from alone in their decision (or lack of decision, as the case may be). Child Trends and the American Institutes of Research conducted a study on the correlation between parental involvement and reading literacy in forty-three countries. This study revealed that, on average, American teens and parents eat together only several times each month, discuss general issues several times each month, discuss political and social issues approximately twice a month, and discuss popular culture (such as books, films, or television) less than once a month. This same study concluded that higher parental involvement in these four areas is strongly related to higher levels of student reading literacy (Guzman, Hampden-Thomas, and Lippman). The idea of parental involvement in the educational system did not gain much popularity until the 1990s. Joyce Epstein–a distinguished educator and author at John Hopkins University–developed a framework defining six different types of parental involvement for education. The involvement types highlighted are (1) parenting, (2) communicating, (3) volunteering, (4) learning at home, (5) decision making, and (6) collaborating with community (State of Michigan). Each type of involvement in Epstein’s framework requires cooperatiion, communication, and intentionality on the parts of both the school and the parental units. In the United States today, some schools incorporate these ideas very well, encouraging parents to participate and get involved. In many schools, however, there can be seen a distinct disinterest toward education on the parts of the parents.
Parents need to become more involved in the academic and personal interests of their children. There are a number of valid and thought-provoking reasons behind this principle. Research has shown that when parents are involved, children have higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates; are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education; and show more positive attitudes and behaviors (MyChildsFuture.org). The family unit is largely responsible for building and maintaining the identity of its elementary and youth members (Stuart). Though many parents would be surprised to discover this, most students–78 percent of middle school students and 48 percent of high school students–want their parents and families to be more involved with them and to talk with them more often (MyChildsFuture.org; State of Michigan). When parents set reasonably high standards and expectations for their children and teenagers, the youths will usually rise to meet that which is expected of them–particularly when they are receiving “the right support and encouragement” (Ypulse). Parents have the best knowledge of their children’s interests and abilities and have the greatest influence on their children’s life choices. parents should have more interest than anyone in the success and wellbeing of their children and their personal involvement in the lives of their children will keep the children’s futures from being left to luck or chance (MyChildsFuture.org). The study by Child Trends and the American Institutes of Research concluded that parental involvement and communication with students is positively related to literacy in reading, math, and science, and that students benefit from varied and multiple types of communication and interaction with their parents (Guzman et al.). In a survey of American 15-year-olds about their passions and dreams, the overwhelming majority named parents as the primary supporters of themselves and the things they are passionate about doing and being (Ypulse).
One of the main reasons parents avoid becoming involved in the academic and personal interests of their children is the bad example set by the somewhat radical and intimidating sect of moms and dads who have adopted the strategy of overparenting. These adults are not-so-affectionately known as “helicopter parents,” a moniker which alludes to their annoying tendency to “hover over their children, swooping in to fight their battles and make their decision for them” (College Board). Many American parents–including my own–are afraid of becoming like these helicopter parents, worrying they’ll suppress the personalities of their own children by handling too much of the child’s responsibility, placing too much stress and expectation on the child, and imposing their own likes and interests on the child. However, the problem with helicopter parents is not that they are too involved with their children. In fact, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement, college students with overly involved parents are more engaged in their studies and are more satisfied with their college experience. In spite of that such students also earned lower grades, prompting researchers to theorize that helicopter parents may have taken action in the beginning because their children struggled with school (College Board). Teachers also prefer over-involved parents to invisible ones (Gibbs). The real problem behind helicopter parenting is that it has become another attempt at perfectionism using children as the playing grounds. Parents urge their children to accomplish things that will make them appear to be the perfect parent. They make decisions on everything from the significant to the inconsequential in the name of doing what’s best for their children, when they are really ignoring the children’s wishes and interests in their quest to create trophy children to compliment their affected “ultimate mom” personas. When the focus of parental involvement has shifted from the identity of the child to that of the parent, the situation has become stifling and possibly even dangerous to the development of the child (Gibbs; Matthews). Fortunately, this is not the kind of parental involvement I am suggesting. Real, wholesome parental involvement in the life of a child is focused on discovering and gently encouraging the child’s unique identity, strengths, and interests (Stuart).
While the idea of parents relating to their children sounds wonderful, it is not all peaches and cream. Family relationships, as with all interpersonal relationships, can make one confused, frustrated, and prepared to give up. But there are thousands of resources available within the vast chasm of the internet as well as in the comforting haven of the local library.
The first thing that a parent must do when seeking the path to parental involvement is to open doors of communication. A parent can learn all kinds of new things about one’s own child by simply asking about things that matter to him or her. In doing this, a parent needs to remember a few things. (1) The youth may not respond at first. In such a situation, the parent should keep trying because the child is most likely listening and waiting to see if this is just the parent’s latest phase or if it is for real. The parent should continue attempting to initiate conversation, even if it turns into a one-sided story. (2) When a parent asks a young person for his or her perspective, the parent should listen to the youth’s thoughts in their entirety before offering his or her own opinion (Ypulse).
Another thing that parents can do to build stronger family relationships is to regularly praise and encourage their children. If the child is doing a good job at something–even something as small as an assigned household chore or making cookies–the parent should not hesitate, but seize such opportunities to make statements affirming the child’s worth and unique personality.
In their study of the correlation between parental involvement and literacy, Child Trends and the American Institute of Research found that making a habit of regularly eating meals together, discussing popular culture, and discussing political or social issues builds family strength, leading to improved levels of reading, math, and science literacy. The researchers argued that family strength is promoted by such activities as spending time together, communicating, and participating in a variety of cultural and educational activities (Guzman et al.). In these three main family building areas, there are a lot of values that America has perhaps lost sight of as a culture as well as some great ideas for how to get involved in the lives and interests of your family members. using my family as an example I will highlight some of the practices I want to see used by my own parents and by parents in other families.
While food is necessary for the survival of the human race, it can also be a beautiful and magical expression of individuals and relationships between people. Good food casts aside differences–in the name of taste and savor, best friends and dire enemies alike all dig in and enjoy. Perhaps that is why families sit down to enjoy meals together. At the dinner table, they are whisked away from the ticking clock of their daily schedules and invited to relax in the company of others who are feeling the same way. My own family sits down to a meal several times a week: a practice I was surprised to find is actually quite rare in our 24/7 drive-thru world. In between stuffing bites of spaghetti or green beans into our mouths, we converse casually about the events of the day. In general, it is a relaxing and rejuvenating time of day. The only element of family meals in my family that I dislike is the devotional time at the end, which is stiff and formal. During that time, everyone looks awkwardly around and wishes silently that it could be over. In the future, I would like to see my family transition to a devotional time filled with questions about subjects we want and need to learn. One idea for how to something similar to that would be to have a discussion box or jar on the table with slips for family members to fill out with questions or conversation topics. I would also like to see my family do more cooking together, accomplishing two things: quality time together and skill building. Another fun idea would be to have bi-monthly theme nights on which the family would serve themed dishes from a specific culture, theme or era and perhaps even dress up to fit the theme.
Try as we might, we can’t get away from popular culture–it’s everywhere! Young people are indoctrinated with daily donations from their peers and pals that hold almost exclusive influence over their entertainment interests. This was my experience during my adolescent years, as my parents never made suggestions for types of entertainment I might be interest in and we never really talked about what I liked or enjoyed. Because of their entertainment indifference, I just kind of went along with whatever my friends were into at the time. And so I was introduced to the world of Japanese comics and animation. When my parents first decided to look into “this manga stuff” and see just what it was their baby girl was reading, they found some content warnings for some of the more extreme genres. They immediately dismissed the whole art form as immoral and depraved without having read a single chapter. To this day my parents roll their eyes and scowl deeply when I talk to my younger sisters about the latest and greatest series, thinking that we’re reading absolute trash and that we’ll rot our brains out. My parents’ distrust of my reading selections makes me not want to share any of my entertainment choices with them, even though we regularly enjoy some of the same movies and television shows. In the future, I would like my family to begin a manga book discussion club to show my parents that not all Asian comics are the great evil they believe them to be and to share with them the beauty of this simple but intricate art form. I would also like to see my family do more with art–taking time to learn and experience music in new ways through more concert attendances as a family and taking up new instruments together, and to grow as artists and craftspeople by creating fun art projects together. A specific goal I have for our family is to learn to sew garments and to knit, as such projects will not only generate family bonding time, but will also build useful skills. A fun idea for discussing popular culture would be for parents to, every once in awhile, take their children on individual dates to the movie theatre or to rent and watch DVDs together and to go out for coffee and movie discussion time afterward. This one-on-one activity time would be a nice change of pace from being with the whole family and would let the child know how treasured and important he or she is.
My family rarely discusses politics, but we often talk about social issues. When I think of social issues, I always think of the green movement, tree huggers, and the Peace Corps. But for some reason, the only volunteer projects I ever seem to get involved in are the ones at the church where my dad serves as pastor. It’s not as if that is a bad thing or that I hate helping out at my home church. the problem is that it is something I have always done and it has never really been something that I have chosen for myself. Volunteerism and social involvement should be something one chooses for oneself, something one is interested in. In the future, I want to see my parents asking their daughters to help at church, but also helping each one find an outside ministry or service that fits her individual gifts and interests. An idea for an activity to open up regular discussion to social issues would be to go on regular nature adventures, such as hiking, biking, or canoeing. Even walking together on the local bike trail can lead to discussions about why preserving our environment is so important.
In order for parents to guide their children through life, they must know the child’s interests, values, and talents. And after a certain point, he or she is not going to want to (or maybe even be able to) share with them. It is so essential for parents to start communicating and getting involved with the academic and personal interests of their children as soon as they possibly can.
Gibbs, Nancy. “Helicopter Parents: The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.” Time. 20 Nov. 2009 <http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1940395,00.html>.
Guzman, Lina, Gillian Hampden-Thompson, and Laura Lippman. “A Cross-national Analysis of Parental Involvement and Student Literacy.” 28 Jun. 2007. International Society for Child Indicators. 28 Mar. 2010 <http://www.childindicators.org/docs/71.ppt>.
“Helicopter Parents Reconsidered.” College Board. 28 Mar. 2010 <http://www.collegeboard.com/parents/plan/getting-ready/155044.html>.
Matthews, Jay. “New Study Gives Hovering College Parents Extra Credit.” The Washington Post. 5 Nov. 2007. 28 Mar. 2010 <http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/04/AR2007110401754.html>.
MyChildsFuture.org. Oregon’s Partnership for Occupational and Career Information. 28 Mar. 2010 <http://mychildsfuture.org/parents/item.htm?id=0>.
State of Michigan. Dept. of Edu. What Research Says about Parental Involvement in Children’s Education in Relation to Academic Achievement. Mar. 2002. 28 Mar. 2010 <http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Final_Parental_Involvement_Fact_Sheet_14732_7.pdf>.
Stuart, Tiffany. “Six Ways to Build Your Teen’s Identity.” 2008. Focus on the Family. 28 Mar. 2010 <http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/your_teen_needs_you/build_your_teens_identity.aspx>.
“Teen Voice 2009.” Ypulse. 28 Mar. 2010 <http://www.ypulse.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/teenvoicereport_final.pdf>.
Written as a Researched Persuasive Paper (though I would hardly call it that!) for a college 100 level writing class.
Yeah, I totally wrote this paper the night before it was due. And it was just over 8 pages long (without the works cited page). I got a 95…whether or not I actually deserved it! O.o
I was scored as:
Grammar – 9.5
MLA Form – 10
Organization – 9.5
Content – 9 “A bit much on your family, although interesting.”
Presentation – 9.5
Total: 47.5/50 (95%)
I agree with her scores. I did ramble quite a bit about my family. And also, the transitions were poor and quite sloppy. But whatever. I think overall, the content was good, and if you get a chance, you should check out my works cited because everything was really interesting! ^^