Unrealistic Parental Expectations Harm Academic Success

Unrealistic Parental Expectations Harm Academic Success
If parental expectations on unrealistically high, students may do worse in school. Photo by Brian A Smith/Shutterstock

READING, England, Nov. 17 (UPI) — Previous research suggests high parental expectations tend to have a positive affect on a child’s academic performance. But a new study shows there’s a limit to that affect.

According to psychologists at the University of Reading in England, unrealistic expectations or excessive parental pressure can have a negative affect on a child’s performance in school.

Researchers arrived at their conclusion after analyzing the results of a five-year longitudinal study in Germany that compared math scores of 3,530 secondary school students with their parents’ aspirations and expectations. Aspirations described how much parents wanted their children to earn a certain grade, while expectations described how well parents believed their children could realistically perform.


When a parent’s aspirations began to exceed their expectations, children’s math scores tended to trend downward, suggesting the weight of unrealistic expectations may hinder a child’s scholastic achievement.

Researchers replicated their analysis, this time using a similar two-year study comprising the math results and expectations of 12,000 students and their parents in the United States. The results were the same.

The findings were published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Much of the previous literature conveyed a simple, straightforward message to parents — aim high for your children and they will achieve more,” lead study author Kou Murayama said in a press release. “Unrealistically high aspiration may hinder academic performance. Simply raising aspiration cannot be an effective solution to improve success in education.”

Many school programs encourage parents to outwardly express their high expectations as a strategy to boost student performance. But the new research suggests such a strategy is oversimplified, and that schools should focus on arming parents with the information they need to develop reasonable expectations.


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