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Parental Expectations Can Affect Kids' Grades

The Short of It

According to a study published in the "Journal of Family Psychology" that examined how parental expectations affected their kids' scholastic performance, kids get the grades their parents expect them to get.

The Lowdown

In the study of 388 two-parent families with at least two teenage children, Alexander Jensen of Brigham Young University and Susan McHale of Penn State focused on the first- and second-born siblings, who were selected to represent all four possible age and gender combinations. The researchers asked the parents questions about how their children were similar or different when it came to school work, who was a better student, and how great their difference in performance was.

In general, parents believed the older child was the better student, despite the fact that the previous year's report cards and grade point averages often showed the opposite. However, parents typically believed a daughter was a better student than a son—which, in general, was true—even when the daughter was the younger child.

The parents' belief of who was the better student, whether true or not, was found to be the biggest factor that determined how kids would perform the following year, even when controlling for why one child might have performed better than the other in the previous school year. The siblings dubbed as "smarter" by their parents had, on average, a 0.21 better GPA.

Kids' performance, however, did not affect parents' beliefs: Even when the "less smart" child got better grades than the "smarter" one, the parents' opinions on who was the better student didn't change.

The Upshot

This study highlights how important it is for parents to support their children and believe in their abilities to succeed. Kids notice how they are perceived by their parents and what is expected of them, and they will live up—or down—to those expectations. It's a powerful lesson we parents should remember.

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