As children enter middle school, their engagement in school often declines and so does their achievement. A new longitudinal study looked at students in the United States and in China—two countries likely to have considerably different ideas about adolescence—to find that children who feel more responsible to their parents stay engaged in school and perform better.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Beijing Normal University. It appears in the journal Child Development.
Researchers asked questions of 825 youths in suburban Chicago and suburban Beijing. The students were part of the University of Illinois U.S.-China Adolescence Study. The children completed questionnaires four times over two years beginning when they started 7th grade. Grades were also charted.
In the United States, but not in China, the youths' sense of responsibility to their parents declined over the two years. But in both countries, youngsters who said they felt responsible to their parents were more invested and engaged in school, and often earned higher grades, independent of the quality of the parent-child relationship. Responsibility was defined as children's feelings of obligation to their parents and their motivation in school to please them, such as meeting parental expectations.
"The findings suggest that parents need to communicate to teenagers the importance of acting responsibily as they enter middle school," according to Eva M. Pomerantz, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the study.
"Explicitly talking with teens about acting responsibly is likely to be useful. Involvement in teens' lives is also very important. For example, when parents are involved in teens' learning, teens tend to develop a sense of responsibility to parents, which maintains their achievement over the middle school years."
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.