Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Family influences on academic motivation

Family influences on academic motivation:
How do families influence school-aged children’s academic motivation?

Overview edit

Pre-School Graduation

Two 14-year-old Dutch students were interviewed by Verkuyten, Thijs, and Canatan (2001) about their education and academic performance. The first student argues that academic achievement is her personal affair and responsibility stating,

“Whether or not I work hard at school is my own business. Learning is something you do for yourself, and only you decide what you want to do. It’s nobody else’s business.”

The second student explains, when asked whether she finds academic achievement important, that her motivation to achieve is strongly determined by feelings of loyalty and obligation toward her parents and family expressing,

“… my parents and relatives will at least know I learned something at school and that I didn’t go there for nothing. But if I fail my exams they tell me, “You didn’t try hard enough and we paid everything for you and we’ve always taken care of you and we raised you. What a way to thank us.” But if I work really hard for my parents and also for me, really, then they’ll tell me, “Yeah, you did what we wanted.”

The focus of this chapter is how families influence school aged children’s academic motivation. To what extent does family motivate children towards high academic achievement?

It is understandable to assume that because of the amount of time a child spends with their parents and family, that they have significant influence on how that child approaches learning behaviours and academic motivation, and parents are considered to be the most invested in their child’s education (Urdan, Solek & Schoenfelder, 2007). The primary social system for children is their family (Halawah, 2006).

Over the years, there have been many different studies yielding differing results. While some of these findings show little evidence of direct and indirect parental influences, others show strong evidence of parental influence of academic achievement through attachment, parenting styles, modeling, involvement with the child’s school work, aspirations and pressures for their children’s higher education and career paths (Urdan, Solek & Schoenfelder, 2007), socioeconomic status and parental control (Halawah, 2006).

Positive correlations were noted between motivation and achievements which revealed that students with higher academic intrinsic motivation had notably higher achievement and intellectual performance (Gottfired, 1990).

What is Motivation and Achievement? edit

First, it is important to understand what motivation and achievement are. Motivation is defined as psychological constructs that focus on processes that drive and direct individuals toward achieving their desired goals; the force within individuals that energises, maintains and controls their behaviour (Weiner, 1992; Westen, Burton, & Kowalski, 2006). However, motivation is a complex construct made up of many components and theories. Students experience the motivation to achieve through social learning; children are able to develop relatively strong achievement strivings when they are provided with independence training, high performance aspirations, realistic standards of excellence, high ability self-concepts (e.g. “this task will be easy for you”), a positive valuing of achievement-related pursuits, explicit standards of excellence, a home environment rich in stimulation potential, a wide extent of experiences (e.g. traveling) and exposure to children’s readers rich in achievement imagery (Rosen & D’Andrade, 1959).

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation edit

Ryan and Deci (2000) defined intrinsic motivation as doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable to that individual, and Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it leads to a distinguishable outcome. Both these motivation theories have proven to be important in terms of students’ academic achievements and are key components to the self-determination theory.

Self-determination Theory (SDT) aims to distinguish the differences between the two types of motivations based on the different reasons or goals that account for an action (Ryan & Deci, 2000). When it comes to students' performance it is important to have a healthy balance between these motivations; a teacher cannot always rely on a student being intrinsically motivated to complete tasks and may have to enforce rewards and pressures, however, a student who is constantly extrinsically motivated may develop resentment, resistance and disinterest towards a task and may develop defiant attitudes and begin to misbehave (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Early intrinsic motivation [missing something?] was found to correlate with motivation and achievement in higher year groups and that later motivation is predictable from early achievement (Gottfried, 1990). Those who are intrinsically motivated have been ‘associated with high-perceived ability and control, realistic task analysis and planning, and the belief that effort increases one’s ability and control states (Halawah, 2006). The issue with extrinsic motivation is that those who are motivated this way, learn to characterise outcomes with external factors such as judgment from others or an anticipated reward (Halawah, 2006). However, as age increases intrinsic motivation tends to change, decrease, or even become extrinsic (Goldberg, 1994).


What is a academic motivation? edit

There are different motivation constructs and theories when it comes to children’s academic motivation, these include:

1. Competence-related beliefs; the primary contrasts include children's:

  • Ability beliefs: evaluations of the children’s competence in different areas. General belief is how good they believe they are at the task (Stipek, 1984). Ability beliefs can also be used to predict a child’s achievement in different subject areas (Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998)
  • Expectancies for success: Having a sense of how well they will do in an upcoming task (e.g. an exam).
  • Self-efficacy: displaying a degree of choice, willingness to expand effort, and persistence will lead to accomplishing higher results (Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998)

2. Control beliefs: involve two beliefs, internal and external locus of control (Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998). Internal locus of control is when an individual thinks they control the outcome, and external locus of control refers to when an individual perceives that the environment manages the control  (Rotter, 1966). 3.   Subjective task values: the purposes or incentives for a child to do different activities affect the effectiveness of a child’s attempt on the task. Even if a child is competent in doing a task, without a purpose or incentive they have no reason to do it (Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998). 4.   Achievement goal orientation: this also related to purposes for child to achieve. There are learning and mastering goals, and performance or ego goals, which refer to the desire to demonstrate their own ability and outperform others. Knowing that they are able to outperform others, a child is more likely to choose to do such tasks and activities, as they know they will succeed. Whereas those who choose learning and mastery goals are more likely to choose challenging tasks and concerned mainly by their own progress (Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998).


What is a social motivation? edit

Social motivation is the study of processes where social behaviour and social experiences influence motivation (Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998). This includes behaving appropriately in social situations, becoming friends with peers and forming relationships, all of which are related positively to social acceptance (Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998). Studies have shown that in a classroom, students are most likely to set goals which allows them to compare themselves against classmates in the hope that they are equal to or better than others to remain socially accepted (Eccles, 1993).

For many psychology researchers, the relationship between motivation and achievement is a major focus of new studies (Verkuyten, Thjis & Canatan, 2001). It has been established in a study on high-school students by Wentzel (1989) that those students who persist and focus on academic achievement while displaying socially appropriate classroom behaviour are more likely to succeed in school.

The interactions between students, their teachers, peers and family have distinctly influenced their academic achievement (Juvonen  & Wentzel, 1996).

Factors influencing school-aged children's motivation edit

Family structure edit

Family dynamics and characteristics are greatly associated with academic motivation, however, the findings vary between children from large families and those from small families. Chiu and Xihua (2008) discuss how family members can have both positive and negative influence on children’s education. First, children living in a single parent home may not have the same amount of books and resources as a child living with two parents, which can reduce motivation (Chiu & Xihua, 2008),[grammar?] these resources are important when children are learning about what they are interested in. Family members can also provide a student with extra resources or mean that there is more competition for them; this can be explained as parents are the resource providers and siblings are described as resource dilution (Chiu & Xihua, 2008). Another competition for resources other than siblings is grandparents,[grammar?] poor or ill grandparents also demand resources from parents increasing limitations for achievement (Patillo-McCoy, Kalil & Payne, 2003).

The image below illustrates the positive and negative influences on a student’s science achievement motivation (Chiu & Xihua, 2008).

Parental influences edit

Parental behaviour edit

Research on how influential parents are on their children’s motivation, in particular academic motivation, suggests that those who are more involved with their child’s school activities and education (e.g., supervising homework and reading with children) can increase the child's motivation and achievement at higher levels (Urdan, Solek & Schoenfelder, 2007). Findings show that parents who are willing and able to provide support without becoming coercive or controlling, are more likely to produce more academically motivated children (Urdan, Solek & Schoenfelder, 2007). However, there is not enough research into how influential these practices by parents are, therefore, parental behaviour was found to not be a strong predictor of children's academic success.

Parenting Styles edit

Parenting style is a major theoretical perspective that is used to assist in explaining the influence of parents on children’s academic achievement. There are two fundamental categories of parenting styles; these are demandingness and responsiveness styles (Pong, Hao & Gardner, 2005). Demandingness refers to how parents show control, the extent of supervision and their maturity demands in their parenting (Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000). And responsiveness parenting refers to the extent to which parents show warmth, acceptance and involvement (Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000).

From these two categories, four different styles of parenting emerges (Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000):

Parenting Style

Demandingness or responsiveness




·   Controlling but not restrictive

·   Highly involved in child’s education and activity participation

·   Open communication

·   Trust and acceptance

·   Encouragement of psychological autonomy

·   Knowing where and who their children are with



·   Fewer affiliative relationships in comparison to authoritative

·   Low trust, engagement and communication

·   Strict control

·   More adult than child centered

·   High psychological control causing children to feel controlled, devalued and criticised



·   Warm, accepting and child-centered attitude

·   Non-demanding behaviour and lack of parental control

·   Mature behaviour is not requires and parents allow children to behave autonomously and independently



·   No support or encouragement

·   Failure to monitor and supervise child’s behaviour

·   Overall uninvolvement

Each of these four parenting styles differs in their impact upon children attitudes towards school life and academic motivation (Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000). Research by Weiss and Schwartz (1996) show that authoritative parenting has been associated with high levels of performance, strong school engagement and positive attitudes towards school. This is based on the evidence that authoritative parenting focuses on the encouragement of independent problem solving and critical thinking by the child (Weiss & Schwartz, 1996).

The study by Aunola, Stattin and Nurmi (2000) (discussed below) investigated parenting styles on students’ achievement and concluded that students who came from an authoritative parenting backgrounds were more adaptive and task-oriented in achievement situation, and rarely showed low levels of failure expectations and passivity. This is because authoritative parenting is believed to influence students through encouragement and competence-promoting feedback, providing positive experiences around academic tasks and being a role model (Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000).

Authoritarian parenting, mainly due to the excessive control, leads to children becoming uninterested in school and therefore not motivated towards academic achievement, as intrinsic motivation has been eliminated (Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000). Additionally, permissive and neglectful parenting has been associated with the underachievement of children and adolescents (Onatsu-Arvilommi & Nurmi, 1997).

Case Study

Aunola, Stattin and Nurmi's (2000) study aimed at investigating the extent to which adolescents’ achievement strategies are related the parenting styles they experience, and whether the associations vary across gender. This study requires the participation of 354 eighth-grade pupils aged between 13 and 15 years from schools in central Sweden, along with their parents. Students were asked to complete a set of questionnaires during school hours concerning their achievement strategies, well-being and the parenting styles of their families. The parents were also asked to complete a questionnaire measuring parenting styles and the achievement strategies used by their child.

Students were asked to rate their responses to statements on a 4-point scale (1= “strongly disagree”, 4= “strongly agree”). There were four components to the questionnaire; failure expectations (e.g. “when I face a new task at school, I am often afraid it will go wrong”), task-irrelevant behaviour (e.g. “if something begins to go wrong with my school work, I quickly disappear to some other place”), passivity (e.g. “if I have a difficult task before me, I notice that often I do not really try”) and self-enhancing attributions. When it came to assessing parenting styles, students were asked to fill out a Orebro Parenting Style Inventory for Adolescents, which asked questions on parent monitoring, child disclosure, parental control, parental trust, parental engagement and experienced control. And finally the parents were asked to fill in the Strategy and Attribution Scale for Parents, along with the Orebro Parenting Style Inventory for Parents.

Results presented evidence that students coming from the four types of parenting styles differ in several ways in their achievement strategies. Those who came from authoritative parenting backgrounds were more adaptive and task-oriented in achievement situation, typically showing low levels of failure expectations and passivity.

Authoritative parenting is believed to influence students through encouragement and competence-promoting feedback. Associations between school achievement and parenting styles can be used to identify issues in young adolescents such as problem behaviour, learning disabilities and patterns of dropping out of school.

Sibling influences edit

Many believe that the number of siblings an individual has and the order in which they are born has definitive consequences on what characteristics, personality traits they possess and how successful they will be. This can be seen in greater detail in the video link provided below. Although there is has not been excessive research on the idea, Chiu and Xihua (2008) do provide evidence that older siblings are more academically motivated, which is linked back to parenting styles, behaviours and their beliefs (Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000).

It is discussed that parents often focus on their parenting styles and effects for the first child, and become less concerned with each child. This is the same with resources, the eldest child will most likely receive the most resources and younger siblings have to compete for the same treatment (Chiu & Xihua, 2008).


'The oldest child is smarter and here's why'

Modeling edit

Studying Star Wars

Modelling is when some children possess the desire to serve as a model for their younger siblings (Urdan, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007). Findings show that those who believe that they are part of a high achieving family will also strive to be a high-achiever, and if they have observed relatives fail academically they are more likely to be low-achievers, even when stating they wished not to be like that and wanted to achieve better results (Urdan, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007).

Urdan, Solek and Schoenelder (2007) also noted that, when asked about family obligation, higher achieving students share their feelings of obligation to serve as a role model for their siblings; one student stated “I want to be the person that makes them say, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that’ or ‘Oh, I wish I could write that good’; 'I just want to be who they look up to, I’m the oldest child of my family and I have a younger brother and younger sister, so [my motivation] comes from there” (Urban, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007). Where as those who are considered moderate achievers, are more likely to be looking at their siblings as a role model, taking a more negative outlook stating that “Two or three of my cousins dropped out, or like you know, they got pregnant and stuff. And I don’t want to do the same like their mistakes” (Urdan, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007).

Family socioeconomic status edit

As of 2000 it was recorded that children were living in better environments with higher educated parents in Western countries (Sirin, 2005). This means that there is a significant increase in the number of parents with higher qualification, therefore, increasing the chances for them to secure high-paying jobs to support their families.

There is evidence that states that the socioeconomic status (SES) of a family is strongly linked to the academic motivation and achievement of a child (Sirin, 2005). A family’s SES is the initiating factor in a child’s academic performance as it contributes to the environment a child grows and learns in. Those higher in SES are able to provide resources at home, such as books and computers, along with providing the social capital that is necessary to succeed in school (Sirin, 2005). SES also assists in determining which school a child will go to and the classroom environment they have access to, based on instructional arrangements, materials, teacher experience and teacher student ratio all of which contributes to the academic achievement of children (Reynolds & Walberg, 1992; Wenglinsky, 1998).

A meta-analysis by Sirin (2005) that analysed the existing literature on SES and academic achievement between 1990 and 2000, found medium to strong relationships. The link between SES and academic achievement continues to be relevant when looking at school level, minority status and school location, however, there has been a slight decrease in the strength of the association over the years due to reasons including adaptions in education systems and teaching styles (Sirin, 2005).

Cultural influences edit

When considering influences on academic motivation, culture is a significant factor for many students. It has been found that Asian students were more likely to spend extra time doing homework and have higher parental expectations than Caucasian student (Urdan, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007). On the other hand, Caucasian students report to have more parental involvement in school activities (Urdan, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007). This may be due to a potential language barrier that Asian parents may experience or it maybe attributed to unfamiliarity with the school system (Mau, 1997).

When asked about academic achievement, some children state that they feel obliged to reach high results at school and “repay” their parents for the sacrifices they have made, which is more often associated to students with immigrant parents (Urdan, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007). Or in some cases high achievement at school allows children to further engage with their parents, and fulfil their desires to get a high-paid job and support their parents (Urdan, Solek & Schoenelder, 2007).

Children of cultural groups such as east Asian and Latin American are more likely to define themselves closely in relation to family members, striving to be like them, where as Western Europeans and Caucasians are more likely to give themselves a more independent identity (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

Conclusion edit

The motivation of students is crucial to their academic achievement and school success, and where this motivation comes from is important. Studies are able to provide evidence that higher achievement and academic motivation can be influenced by family dynamics such as living with two parents, without grandparents, with fewer siblings (especially older ones), higher family SES and more resources such as having books at home. Academic motivation is higher in children who are intrinsically motivated throughout their childhood and who have the loving and nurturing support of parents who adopt an authoritative parenting style. This means that they are highly involved with their children’s education, actively provide support in school activities and supervise homework, communicate often with teachers and encourage independent problem solving and critical thinking in all areas of their lives. This chapter outlines the main ways families are influencing young children's academic motivation at school.

Critical questions edit

And though there is evidence that families influence children's academic motivation,  it is important to consider:

  • How much influence family has/how is it measured?
  • At what age are children most influenced?
  • Is socioeconomic status the most significant influence as it determines what school and what resources children have access to?

See also edit

Motivation and emotion

What is motivation?

Achievement goal orientation and academic motivation

Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Achievement motivation

Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Education

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External links edit

Parenting and emotional development in children

University student time management

Academic cheating motivation

Types of discipline strategies and parenting styles