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Parents of Teens: You Can Influence Your Kids About School

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Many parents believe that they have lost the "influence game" when their children become teenagers. They think their teens' peers hold more sway than they do about everything.

In fact, researchers have found that parents—and teachers—still "trump" other teens when it comes to influencing their children about certain aspects of school engagement.

The study is reported in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Child Development. Ming-Te Wang, lead author of the study and a faculty research fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, told Education Week that parents have two "takeaways" from his research.

"I want parents to know that they are still important, even when their kids are involved in middle and high school," he said.

"My second message is that the way parents are involved in middle school and high school might change. While it is good to attend parent-teacher conferences or volunteer at school, parents also must communicate the importance of education to their children at this age," he says.

He encourages parents to ask their children about their future plans, and to help make connections about choosing courses that will achieve those goals.

"It's important for parents to focus on educational goals," he said.

Wang and co-author Jacquelynne Eccles discovered that parents and teachers are especially influential when it comes to two indicators of student engagement: participation in extracurricular activities, and the value placed on education. They found this to be true for all ethnic groups and races, and across all economic groups they studied.

The researchers analyzed longitudinal data on nearly 1,500 teens from 23 schools in the Washington, D.C., area. Students were interviewed in 7th, 9th and 11th grades, with researchers asking about four indicators of student engagement: compliance with school rules, participation in extracurricular activities, identification with one's school, and value placed on education.

In the study, students were asked about the support they received from teachers, parents and peers, and assessed school records and other information.

The analysis was funded by the Spencer Foundation. The data are part of the University of Michigan's Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study, also known as the Prince George's County Family Study, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by the National Institutes of Health.

The University of Michigan's full news service story about the study is available here.

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