If parents believe their children will go to college, it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that will be the case.

So says a recent study by researchers from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics. They determined that when it comes to attending college and academic accomplishment, parents’ attitudes about college and their expectations not only influence but serve as a strong predictor of student success.

“Parents who saw college in their child’s future seemed to manage their child toward that goal, irrespective of their income and other assets,” explains Neal Halfon, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author. According to the study, “Whether or not parents expected their children to attend college was a key factor in the children’s success.”

Results of the study align with the thoughts of K12’s Director of Guidance Counseling Laurel Barrette, who believes that from an early age, parents and children should treat college attendance as an “expectation.”

“Students and parents are in this together,” Barrette says. “although, ultimately, attending college will be the student’s choice within the parents’ ability to support that option.”

Halfon, director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities and a professor of pediatrics, public health, and public policy, based his conclusions by studying test results of 6,600 children. Research results appeared in Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The big surprise was what a strong role parents’ long-term goals for their children played in predicting their math and reading abilities,” Halfon says.

Additionally, expectations from parents about whether or not they expected their children to attend college goes a long way toward determining a child’s educational path. The study concludes: “Of the children with the lowest test scores, 57 percent were expected by their parents to go to college. Of those who scored the highest, 96 percent were expected to attend college.”

Those “expectations” can become reality based on the kind of discussions parents have with their children at an early age, particularly talks centering on the sacrifices necessary and benefits obtained by attending college. The nature of those parent-child discussions about college can also hinge on socioeconomic factors, which UCLA researchers found, not surprisingly, to weigh heavily on academic success.

The impact on children’s educational futures begin to take shape early, prior to kindergarten, and can be based on a multitude of socioeconomic factors. “Children whose parents are more educated and have better jobs and higher incomes tend to have stronger math and reading skills than their peers,” writes Dr. Rick Nauert about the study for PsychCentral.

The UCLA study analyzed children born in 2001, whose parents were interviewed four times before they entered kindergarten. The researchers established five socioeconomic groups based on income, parents’ jobs and parents’ education. The children were assessed by use of standard psychological and educational tests.

In conclusion, children from poorer families did not fare as well on tests, even if family income did not fall below the poverty line. The higher a family’s socioeconomic status, the better the child scored in both reading and math. The study also found that children in lower socioeconomic groups tended to have younger mothers, used computers less frequently at home, and were read to less frequently by parents.

This knowledge can help parents adapt and even buck the trend when discussing college and academic expectations with young children.

“Our findings suggests there are a range of behaviors that parents can adopt and services they can provide to help their young children get better prepared for their educational journey,” the study’s lead author, Kandyce Larson, PhD, tells Nauert. “In addition to fostering educational activities such as reading to their children on a daily basis, parents can also adopt a mindset that focuses on a pathway that will lead their child to college.”

Michaele Charles, a blogger for Front Range Community College of Colorado, notes that children will take cues from their parents when it comes to continuing their education.

“If you show your children that you believe school is important by making it a priority, holding high expectations, encouraging them to work hard, and caring about their school work, you will have a positive impact,” Charles writes. “Similarly, if you talk with your children about college, set the expectation that they will go to college, and share your belief that college is an important part of the life journey, it will rub off.”

 

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