Research Reveals – Chapter Eighteen

RR18.1: Parental Expectations
Research has shown that parental involvement can produce positive or negative outcomes in terms of their children’s academic achievement. A meta-analysis of 77 studies, done in the US, published by the Harvard Family Research Project in 2005, consisting of 300,000 elementary and secondary students, found that parental educational expectations are a particularly important aspect of parental involvement.[i] Outcomes were affected by how much time parents spent reading to children, whether or not they tried to avoid encounters which produce frustration, (such as “exasperation interactions”), and, to a lesser extent, parents’ participation in school-related activities. Furthermore, parental involvement was associated with multiple measures of student achievement for the entire student population, as well as minority and low-income student populations. Overall, “the academic advantage for those children whose parents were highly involved in their education averaged about 0.5–0.6 of a standard deviation for overall educational outcomes, grades and academic achievement.”[ii]

At the secondary education level, high parental expectations continue to yield significant schooling benefits.[iii]In one study of high school seniors, parental expectations played the primary role in shaping the students’ academic achievement, attitude towards their work, and participation in extracurricular activities. In yet another study, researchers found that  “parental expectations for achievement stand out as the most significant influences on [their] achieve­ment growth, high school credits completed, and enrolment in extracurricular academic high school programs.”[iv] High parental educational expecta­tions are also associated with better mathematics and reading scores, interest in school, academic self-discipline, future planning, and motivation for schoolwork.[v] In fact, in one highly specific 2006 study conducted with African-American families living in low income areas, researchers found that when parents taught that success originates from effort rather than surpassing peers, it had a strong positive effect on the math grades of eighth- and ninth-graders.[vi]

RR 18.2: Family Structure
The Heritage Foundation, a US-based research and educational institution, offered important insights about the changes in the American family households and their impact on the overall well-being of the children. They documented the decline in the number of American children growing up in households with both biological parents and the sharp increase in the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers.[vii]In 2008, they issued the following statement from sociologist Paul Amato:

Perhaps the most profound change in the American family over the past four decades has been the decline in the share of children growing up in households with biological parents.”[viii][The report went on to state] Studies have shown that children raised in intact families, i.e., with two continuously married parents, tend to fare better in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral areas than children living in other family forms.[ix]

In simple terms, this means that parents who tried to keep their marriage together “for the sake of the children”, as long as the home did not have repeated destructive conflict, did the right thing. We would add that if parents would go the extra mile and proactively work on their marriage for the sake of Love Connection, they and their children would be even better off. Thus, there is ample evidence to suggest that the structure of an intact family in which parents are married, and we would like to add happily married, has a positive impact on their children’s education.

In addition to improving education and job prospects, another important consequence of a healthy marriage is that parents will be able to put up a united front about what to expect from the child, thus ensuring consistency, as mentioned in the section on Reasonable Limits. It is better for children when they hear similar expectations from both parents. When parents are not united and convey different expectations, children may become confused. Eventually they will figure out which parent is the “weaker link” and either side with the parent that advocates their point of view or play the parents off of each other.

Family Structure
The mission of the Heritage Foundation is to perform timely, accurate research on key policy issues and market these findings to their primary audiences: members of Congress, key congressional staff members, policymakers in the executive branch, the nation’s news media, along with the academic and policy communities. In 2008, when they issued the statement above, they accompanied it with the following statistics:[x]

In 1960, 88% of all children lived with two parents, compared to 68% in 2007.[xi] In 1960, 5% of all children were born to unmarried mothers. That figure rose to 38.5% in 2006.[xii] Demographers have estimated that, overall, one child in two will spend some portion of his or her childhood in a single-parent family.[xiii] Not surprisingly, the changes in family structure over the last 40 years have affected the well-being of children and adolescents. In 2002, nearly seven million children between the ages of 12 and 18 repeated a grade. Based on this figure, Professor Amato estimates that if the share of two-parent families had remained unchanged between 1980 and 2002, some 300,000 fewer teens would have repeated a grade.[xiv]

Two-Parent Families Better for Education
It comes as no surprise that reading to young children aids their literary development. However, a study released by the US Census Bureau in 2008 showed that toddlers and preschool-age children in married-parent families are read to more often than peers in non-intact families.[xv] Another US study published in 2007 found that of 11,500 kindergarteners living with two parents or parent figures, accounting for parental education and income, children living with married parents achieved higher reading achievement test scores on average than peers living in cohabiting, or step-parent, families.[xvi]

The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development conducted a study of Early Child Care and Youth Development in the USA. From a sample of 1,015 children, the study found that first-graders whose mothers were married when they were born are less likely to engage in disruptive behaviour with peers and teachers than those whose mothers were single, or cohabiting, at the time of their birth.[xvii]

All findings below were taken from All studies were done in the US unless stated otherwise.[xviii]

  • A study published in 2006 showed children between the ages of 3-12 who live in intact families have higher average math scores than peers whose mothers live in cohabiting relationships.[xix]
  • The association between family structure and nine-year-olds’ science and math achievement appears to be cross-national. This study was published in 2003.[xx]
  • Children between the ages of 7-10 who live in continuously intact families tend to score higher on reading tests than peers who have lived in other family structures. This research was published in 2001.[xxi]
  • Children between the ages of 6-11 who live in intact families tend to be more engaged in their schoolwork than peers in other family structures. This study was published in 2004.[xxii]
  • A study published in 1997 showed that eighth-graders from two-parent families perform better on average in math and science tests than peers from single-parent, or step-parent, families.[xxiii]
  • The predominant family structure of a school’s student population appears to be linked to the individual science and math scores of eighth-graders, i.e., middle schools whose students come mostly from intact families as a rule have higher math and science scores. This work was published in 1997.[xxiv]
  • Ninth-graders whose mothers were married when they were born are more likely to complete an algebra course than peers whose mothers were single when they were born. This study was published in 2006.[xxv]
  • A study published in 2003 found that on average, compared with peers from intact families, adolescents living with a single mother or with mothers who were remarried or cohabiting experience more behavioural problems and lower levels of academic performance. Compared to children living in intact families, peers living in single-mother families, single-mother families with cohabiting partners, and married families with stepfathers were more likely to have been suspended or expelled from school; more likely to have engaged in delinquent activities in the past 12 months; more likely to have problems getting along with their teachers, doing homework, or paying attention in school; and more likely to have lower grade point averages.[xxvi]

RR 18.3: Asian Parents More Likely to Have Children with Dysfunctional Perfectionism
A 1997 Johns Hopkins study by Ablard and Parker found that:

Of Asian parents, 69% had performance-oriented goals compared to only 25% of Caucasian parents.

The researchers also discovered that children of performance-oriented parents were significantly more likely to fall into the dysfunctional perfectionism group than children of parents with learning-oriented goals. These children were likely to be concerned about the following three components: concern over mistakes, parental criticism, and doubts about action.[xxvii]

(Dysfunctional) Perfectionism has also been linked to the following:

  • Depression that results from the perceived inability to reach excessive and externally-defined goals;[xxviii]
  • Anorexia Nervosa;[xxix]
  • Bulimia;[xxx]
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder;[xxxi]
  • Migraine;[xxxii]
  • Procrastination;[xxxiii] and
  • Suicidal tendencies.[xxxiv]

Conditional Parenting Causes Schemas
In 2012, Assor and Tal, two Israeli experts in the field of motivation, published a study in the Journal of Adolescence. They set out to see the negative effect of perceived parental affection and esteem when the child meets the parents’ expectation in academic achievement situations. Their sample: Israeli 10th and 11th grade students (approximately 16 1/2 years old). What they found was that parents’ conditional positive regard, PCPR, as they called it, correlated with adolescents’ self-aggrandizement following success and self-derogation and shame following failure. The outcome was unhealthy behaviour as a result of becoming puffed up after “success” and filled with self-loathing after “failure”. The fluctuations between the two, self-aggrandizing and self-derogation, is a reflection of an unstable self-esteem, based primarily on the perceived view of the parents on the outcome of the adolescents’ achievements. The self-aggrandizing emerges as a response to the missing unconditional parental regard of “Connection and Acceptance” which was discussed at length previously. Although showing positive regard only when there is an achievement looks seemingly harmless, its effect can be extremely harmful, as this study has indicated.[xxxv]

According to the research above and in our opinion as counsellors, it makes sense that withholding affection conditional parenting would lead to self-aggrandizing and or self-derogation. In schema language, this is about the development of lifetraps such as:

  • Entitlement – With this lifetrap, children have a grossly inflated view of themselves without sober judgement. This will sow the seeds of narcissistic behaviour (see lifetrap of “Entitlement” in Chapter Twelve).
  • Unrelenting Standards – With this lifetrap, children overcompensate for their perceived failure or lack of successes by swinging to the other extreme and become workaholics and overachievers. This leaves little time for relaxation and drives them to be highly critical of themselves and others (see lifetrap of “Unrelenting Standards” in Chapter Sixteen).
  • Defectiveness, Failure, Social Isolation – With these lifetraps, children have a deflated view of themselves and often listen to their inner voices which puts them down. Often these voices carry messages of their parents talking to them when they were young (see lifetraps in the domain of “Disconnection and Rejection” in Chapter Five).

RR 18.4: Conditional Parenting Is Damaging
A New York Times article published in September 2009 featured more of Deci’s research, including highlighting several studies done in 2004. Deci and his colleagues asked more than 100 college students whether the love they had received from their parents had seemed to depend on any of the following factors: whether they had succeeded in school; practised hard for sports; been considerate toward others; or suppressed emotions like anger and fear. It turned out that children who received conditional approval were indeed somewhat more likely to act as the parent wanted. However, the children’s compliance came at a steep price. First, these children tended to resent and dislike their parents. Second, they were apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to “strong internal pressure” than “a real sense of choice.” Moreover, their happiness after succeeding at something was usually short-lived, and they often felt guilty or ashamed.

In a companion study, Dr Assor and his colleagues interviewed mothers of grown children. With this generation, too, conditional parenting proved damaging. Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations, now felt less worthy as adults. Yet despite the negative effects, these mothers were more likely to turn around and use conditional affection with their own children.[xxxvi]Dysfunction is truly the gift that keeps on giving!

The article stated further that the same researchers published two replications and extensions of the original study. This time the subjects were Israeli adolescents. The study distinguished between giving more approval when children did what parents wanted and giving less approval when they did not.

The studies found that both positive and negative conditional parenting were harmful, but in slightly different ways. The positive kind sometimes succeeded in getting children to work harder on academic tasks, but at the cost of unhealthy feelings of “internal compulsion.” Negative conditional parenting didn’t even work in the short run; it just increased the teenagers’ negative feelings about their parents.[xxxvii]

What these and other studies tell us is that praising children for doing something right in an area that is not meaningful to them, although better than withholding affection or punishing, will still feel to the children like conditional parenting. All of these approaches will eventually prove to be counterproductive.[xxxviii]

RR 18.5: Motivating “Underachievers”
In a study entitled “Parenting Practices at the Millennium (PPM)” conducted in the United States, Dr. Dan Kindlon and his colleagues surveyed hundreds of children and their parents. They found that children (both boys and girls) who stated that they were not working to their intellectual potential were also the very ones who felt that their parents were pushing them too hard academically. And interestingly, the study also revealed that the opposite parent sex tended to exert the greatest influence on the children. Essentially, the only factor related to boys’ underachievement was their mothers’ pressure, while for girls, the most significant factor was the level of their fathers’ expectations.[xxxix]

[i] Jeynes, W. H. (2005, December). Parental involvement and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Family Involvement Research Digests. Retrieved May 30, 2012, from Harvard Family Research Project:

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Toney, L. P., Kelley, M. L., & Lanclos, N. F. (2003). Self- and parental monitoring of homework in adolescents: Comparative effects on parents’ perceptions of homework behavior problems. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 25(1), 35–51; Zhan, M. (2006). Assets, parental expectations and involvement, and children’s educational performance. Children and Youth Services Review, 28, 961–975; Catsambis, S. (2001). Expanding knowledge of parental involvement in children’s secondary education: Connections with high school seniors’ academic success. Social Psychology of Education, 5(2), 149–177; Jeynes, W. H. (2003). A meta-analysis: The effects of parental involvement on minority children’s academic achievement. Education and Urban Society, 35(2), 202–218; Trusty, J. (2003). Modeling Mexican Americans’ educational expectations: Longitudinal effects of variables across adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Research, 18, 131–153.

[iv] Catsambis (2001), Expanding knowledge of parental involvement; Kreider, H., Caspe, M., Kennedy, S., & Weiss, H. (2007). Family involvement in middle and high school students’ education. Harvard Family Research Project, 1–12.

[v] Zhan (2006), Assets, parental expectations and involvement; Spera, C. (2006). Adolescents’ perceptions of parental goals, practices and styles in relation to their motivation and achievement. Journal of Early Adolescence, 26(4), 456–490; Marchant, G. J., Paulson, S. E., & Rothlisberg, B. A. (2001). Relations of middle school students’ perceptions of family and school contexts with academic achievement. Psychology in the Schools, 38, 505–519.

[vi] Gutman, L. M. (2006). How student and parent goal orientations and classroom goal structures influence the math achievement of African Americans during the high school transition. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 31, 44–63.

[vii] Kim, C. C. (2008). Academic success begins at home: How children can succeed in school. Backgrounder (Published by The Heritage Foundation), 2185, 1-12.

[viii] Amato, P. R. (2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social and emotional well-being of the next generation. The Future of Children, 15(2), 76.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Kim (2008), Academic success begins at home.

[xi] U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Time Series. (2008). Living arrangements of children under 18 years old: 1960 to the present, Table CH-1.

[xii] Ventura, S. J., & Bachrach, C. A. (2000). Nonmarital childbearing in the United States, 1940–99. National Vital Statistics Reports, 48(16), Table 1; Brady, E. H., Martin, J. A., & Ventura, S. J. (2007). Births: Preliminary data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports, 56(7), Table 1.

[xiii] Bumpass, L. L., & Sweet, J. A. (1989). Children’s experience in single-parent families: Implications of cohabitation and marital transition. Family Planning Perspectives, 21(6), 252–260.

[xiv] Amato (2005), The impact of family formation change, 88–89.

[xv] U.S. Census Bureau. (2008, September 1). A child’s day, 2004. Table D9. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from United States Census Bureau:

[xvi] Artis, J. (2007). Maternal cohabitation and child well-being among kindergarten children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 222–236.

[xvii] Cavanagh, S. E., & Houston, A. C. (2006). Family instability and children’s early problem behavior. Social Forces, 85(1), 551–581.

[xviii] The Heritage Foundation. Strong beginnings: How families bolster early educatonal outcomes. Retrieved September 14, 2012, from

[xix] Hofferth, S. L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being, Demography, 43(1), 53–77.

[xx] Pong, S. L., & Hampden-Thompson, G. (2003). Family policies and children’s school achievement in single- versus two-parent families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(3), 681–699.

[xxi] Carlson, M. J., & Corcoran, M. E. (2001). Family structure and children’s behavioral and cognitive outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 779–792.

[xxii] Brown, S. L. (2004). Family structure and child well-being: The significance of parental cohabitation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(2), 351–367.

[xxiii] Pong, S. L. (1997). Family structure, school context, and eighth- grade math and reading achievement. Journal of Marriage and Family, 59(3), 734–746.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Cavanagh, S. E., & Schiller, K. S. (2006). Marital transitions, parenting, and schooling: Exploring the link between family-structure history and adolescents’ academic status. Sociology of Education, 79(4), 329–354.

[xxvi] Manning, W., & Lamb, K. (2003). Adolescent well-being in cohabitating, married, and single-parent families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 876–893; The Heritage Foundation. Family and adolescent well-being. Retrieved September 14, 2012, from

[xxvii] Ablard, K. E., & Parker, W. D. (1997). Parents’ achievement goals and perfectionism in their academically talented children. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 26(6), 651-667.

[xxviii] Blatt, S. J. (1995). The destructiveness of perfectionism: Implications for the treatment of depression. American Psychologist, 50, 1003–1020.

[xxix] Lask, B., & Bryant-Waugh, R. (1992). Early-onset anorexia nervosa and related eating disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(1), 281–300.

[xxx] Axtell, A. & Newton, B. J. (1993). An analysis of alderian life themes of bulimic women. Journal of Alderian Theory, Research and Practice 49(1), 58–67.

[xxxi] Rasmussen, S. A., & Eisen, J. L. (1992). The epidemiology and clinical features of obsessive compulsive disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 15(4), 743–758.

[xxxii] Brewerton, T. D., & George, M. S. (1993). Is migraine related to eating disorders? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 14, 75–79.

[xxxiii] Adderholt-Elliot, M. (1989). Perfectionism and underachievement. Gifted Child Today, 12, 19–21.

[xxxiv] Adkins, K. K., & Parker, W. D. (1996). Perfectionism and suicidal preoccupation. Journal of Personality, 64, 529–543.

[xxxv] Assor, A., & Tal, K. (2012). When parents’ affection depends on child’s achievement: Parental conditional positive regard, self-aggrandizement, shame and coping in adolescents, Journal of Adolescence, 35, 249–260; Roth, G., Assor, A., Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The emotional and academic consequences of parental conditional regard: comparing conditional positive regard, conditional negative regard, and autonomy support as parenting practices. Developmental Psychology, 45, 1119–1142.

[xxxvi] Assor, A., Roth, G., Israeli, M., Freed., & Deci, E. (2007). Parental conditional positive regard: Another harmful type of parental control. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), (Boston USA).

[xxxvii] Roth, Assor, Niemiec, Ryan & Deci (2009), The emotional and academic consequences of parental conditional regard.

[xxxviii] Kohn, A. (2009, September 14). When a parent’s ‘I love you’ means ‘Do as I say”. Retrieved May 31, 2012, from The New York Times:

[xxxix] Kindlon, D. (2001). Too much of a good thing: Raising children of character in an indulgent age. New York: Hyperion. 127.