ESL prevention extended to the home environment: the relationship between (authoritative) parenting style and ESL

Thursday 23 July 2015, by Tina Rutar Leban

Research emphasises the positive impact of an authoritative parenting style on school achievements, school engagement and also directly on ESL. Parents’ behaviour that is accepting, warm and encouraging yet also firm and with clear expectations has the most favourable impact on a child’s/adolescent’s development and also acts as an ESL preventive factor. Other parenting styles (authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved) have been examined less.

The family has been recognised as one of the primary contributors to children’s and adolescents’ education (e.g. Baumrind, 1971; Rumberger, 1995; Steinberg, 2001). Different researchers in this field have focused on structural factors such as family background (e.g. socio-economic status (SES), parent education etc.) in relation to children’s academic achievement and ESL (e.g. McNeal, 1999). Others tried to provide insights into which parenting practices promote school success and prevent ESL (e.g. Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabbani, 2001; Jimerson et al., 2000 etc.). Some researchers (e.g. Steinberg, 2001; Blondal, 2009; 2014) suggest that, to better understand the influence parents have on their child’s/adolescents’ education, it is better to look at a conceptualisation of child/adolescent upbringing that characterises parents’ actions in a broader perspective, such as the parenting style (i.e. authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved, Baumrind (1971)).

Authoritative parents are accepting, warm and encouraging toward their children but at the same time impart clear standards for their children’s behaviour, enforcing developmentally appropriate expectations without being intrusive or restrictive (Baumrind, 1971). The authoritative parenting style was shown to impact positively on children’s/adolescents’ school achievements (e.g. Adalbjarnardottir & Blondal, 2004; Baumrind, 1991) and school engagement (e.g. Simons-Morton & Chen, 2009; Steinberg et al., 1994). Research also shows that adolescents from authoritative families are more likely to complete upper secondary education (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2009).

A better understanding of the role parenting styles play in ESL prevention might help parents with an improved comprehension of how to motivate and encourage their children’s/adolescents’ educational aspirations and support their success at school in order to prevent ESL. These insights may also help school professionals who work in multi-partner ESL prevention teams to understand the importance of cooperation with parents in preventing ESL.


Home environment/family is one of the important factors which can influence a young person’s progression toward school success or failure, staying in school or leaving it before completion (e.g. Brofenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Jimerson, Egeland, Sroufe, & Carlson, 2000; Younge, Oetting, & Deffenbacher, 1996). The family is the earliest and most fundamental socialisation institution for a developing child/adolescent (Newcomb, 1997). It has also been recognised as a primary contributor to children’s/adolescents’ education (e.g. Baumrind, 1971; Rumberger, 1995; Steinberg, 2001). Some studies in this field have focused on structural factors such as family background in relation to students’ academic achievement and ESL. For example, students from families of higher socio-economic status (SES) and with higher educated parents are more successful at school and less likely to leave school than students from lower SES families (e.g. McNeal, 1999).

Other studies have focused on providing insights into what it is in family life that promotes school success and prevents ESL. They have looked into different parenting behaviour, specific practices parents use every day when they interact, educate, socialise their children/adolescents (hereafter referred to as parenting practices e.g. parent involvement in school, parent-child/adolescent communication, caregiving, autonomy support etc.). For example, parental involvement in school was a significant predictor of high school graduation status (Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabbani, 2001; Ekstrom, 1986; Jimerson, Egeland, Sroufe, & Carlson, 2000; McNeal, 1999; Rosenthal, 1998; Rumberger, Ghatak, Poulos, Ritter, & Dornbusch, 1990). Parent-child/adolescent relationship factors such as caregiving quality, parental support (instrumental and emotional), hostility and rejection, and parent-child/adolescent communications were also found to be significant predictors of high school graduation status (Brewster & Bowen, 2004; Jimerson et al., 2000; McNeal, 1999; Richman, Rosenfeld, & Bowen, 1998; Rosenthal, 1998; Younge, Oetting, & Deffenbacher, 1996). In general, the findings from studies that focus on parenting practices relative to adolescents’ educational outcomes have been inconsistent and weaker than expected (see the review by Fan & Chen, 2001). For instance, in some studies parental involvement seems to relate positively to children’s/adolescents’ achievement (e.g. Hoge, Smit, & Crist, 1997); other studies indicate no association, or even a negative one. For example, McNeal (1999) found that adolescents whose parents participated in the parent-teacher association received lower grades than their peers.

To better understand the influence parents have on their child’s/adolescent’s education, some researchers suggest (e.g. Steinberg, 2001; Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2009; 2014) it is better to look at a conceptualisation of child/adolescent upbringing that characterises parents’ actions in a broader perspective, such as the parenting style (as defined by Baumrind, 1971).

In this article, we focus on the impact of specific parenting practices and parenting styles on ESL and two school-related outcomes (school achievement and school engagement) that have been shown to be important preventive factors for ESL (e.g. Archambault, Janosz, Fallu, & Pagani, 2009; Ensminger, Lamkin, & Jacobson, 1996; Finn, 1989; Simpkins, Fredericks, & Eccles, 2015) (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Conceptual framework of the relationship between parenting style/practice and education related outcomes (achievement, engagement, ESL)

A better understanding of the role of parenting style in preventing ESL might help parents better understand how to motivate and encourage their children’s/adolescents’ educational aspirations and support their success at school in order to stop ESL. It may also help school professionals who work in multi-partner ESL prevention teams to understand the importance of cooperation with parents in ESL prevention and all other school professionals to develop ESL prevention programmes for parents. The relationship between parenting style and ESL also informs policy-makers about the importance of systematic cooperation between school and parents.


The article is based on a review of the literature that involved searching in the PsycINFO, ERIC, Proquest, Science Direct and Google scholar search databases. Keywords used in the literature search were family factors for early school leaving, parenting styles, home environment, school performance, school achievements, parental beliefs, parental behaviours, school dropout, predictors for early school leaving etc. For the purposes of this article, we chiefly considered scientific papers, some online scientific books and study reports.

Parenting styles

Contemporary research on parenting styles derives from Baumrind’s (1971, 1978) studies of family interactions. Baumrind (1973) defined parenting style as a consistent pattern with which parents interact with their children along two dimensions: demandingness and responsiveness. Demandingness refers to parental efforts to integrate children into the family through maturity demands, supervision, discipline, and willingness to confront behavioural problems. Responsiveness refers to the extent to which parents foster individuality, self-regulation and self-assertion by consenting to or being aware and supportive of children’s needs and demands (Baumrind, 1991). Based on these two dimensions, Baumrind classified four parenting styles: authoritarian (high demandingness, low responsiveness), authoritative (high demandingness, high responsiveness), permissive (low demandingness, high responsiveness), and uninvolved parenting style (low demandingness and low responsiveness). Authoritarian parents are demanding and controlling, but not responsive or warm. They have clear rules that their children are not supposed to question. Authoritative parents are accepting, warm and encouraging toward their children yet at the same time firm; they impart clear standards for their children’s behaviour, enforcing developmentally appropriate expectations without being intrusive or restrictive. Permissive parents on the other hand are responsive and warm. They allow considerable self-regulation, but are lenient and avoid confrontation. Uninvolved parents are neither responsive nor demanding. They do not monitor or guide their children/adolescents and do not support them or relate to them with warmth.

This typology of parenting style provides an opportunity to explore relationships among the multidimensional characteristics of parenting and the adjustment of youth (Adalbjarnardottir & Hafsteinsson, 2001; Lambom et al., 1991; Steinberg et al., 1994; Türkei & Tezer, 2008). Results of various studies show that an authoritative parenting style is, generally speaking, most suitable for raising children/adolescents in western, technologically and educationally advanced countries (e.g. Baumrind, 1967, 1971, 1989; Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Denham, Renwick, & Holt, 1991; Kuczyinski & Kochanska, 1995; Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Steinberg, 2001). Authoritative parents are accepting, warm and encouraging towards their children/adolescents. At the same time, they supervise their children’s/adolescents behaviour, impart clear standards and enforce developmentally appropriate expectations without being intrusive or restrictive. During adolescence, they apply democratic discipline and encourage their adolescents to express their thoughts and feelings. They also support their adolescents’ needs for more independence. Gray and Steinberg (1999) examined the core dimensions of authoritative parenting – autonomy granting, acceptance, and supervision – and found that all three related to adolescents’ academic competence. Compared to their peers raised in non-authoritative family settings, children and adolescents from authoritative families have been shown to obtain higher scores on a wide variety of measures of adjustment, psychosocial development, and academic achievement (e.g. Adalbjarnardottir & Hafsteinsson, 2001; Baumrind, 1991; Gray & Steinberg, 1999; Steinberg et al., 1994; Türkel & Tezer, 2008).

Impact of parenting style and practices on children’s/adolescents’ school achievement

Students who show low academic achievements have consistently been shown to be at a higher risk for ESL than other students. Academic achievement is one of the strongest predictors of ESL (e.g. Battin-Pearson, Newcomb, Abbott, Hill, Catalano, & Hawkins, 2000; Jonasson & Blondal, 2002; Rumberger, 1995). Moreover, it may mediate the relationship between parenting style and ESL as adolescents’ achievement varies by parenting style (Adalbjarnardottir & Blondal, 2004). Therefore, parenting style may influence the likelihood of ESL partly due to its influence on adolescents’ academic achievement (see Figure 1).

Studies show that adolescents who perceive their parents as authoritative are more likely to earn higher grades at school than adolescents who perceive their parents as non-authoritative (e.g. Adalbjarnardottir & Blondal, 2004; Baumrind, 1991). Positive associations between parent involvement and academic achievement have been demonstrated in different studies. A meta-analysis (Fan & Chen, 2001) indicated moderate associations between parent involvement and an array of learning-related or academic skills, such as achievement motivation, task persistence and receptive vocabulary. In his study, Yaffe (2015) examined the relationship between parenting style, parental involvement in school and achievement among students with disabilities. The results of the study indicated that parenting style and parental involvement in school explain a significant proportion of the variance in educational functioning among students included in the study. Parenting style and parental involvement modestly predicted academic achievements in language skills and mathematics. The significant relationships between parenting style and educational functioning and achievements pointed to the better performance of students with authoritative parents compared to students with authoritarian ones.

Several variations of social cognitive models of parental influence were proposed, focusing on children’s/adolescents’ academic achievement-related behaviours and outcomes (e.g. Eccles-Parsons, Adler, & Kczala, 1982; Goodnow & Collins, 1990; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994; Holloway, 1988; Marjoribanks, 2002). Eccles and her colleagues developed a model in which they elaborated diverse pathways through which parents might influence their children’s achievement-related choices and motivational beliefs (Eccles, Arberton, Buchanan, Janis, Flanagan, Harold, & Reuman, 1993). They proposed that parents can shape children’s/adolescents’ motivational beliefs (e.g. self-concept of ability, task value) and achievement-related choices (including ESL) through a variety of child-/adolescent-specific beliefs (for instance, expectations of a child’s/adolescent’s achievement, perceptions of a child’s/adolescent’s abilities, perception of the values of various skills for the child/adolescent, perceptions of child’s/adolescent’s interests, and specific socialisation goals) and behaviours (such as teaching strategies, career guidance, encouragement of various activities, provision of tools, toys opportunities, causal attributions for a child’s behaviour and outcomes, and emotional tone in interactions). The model was tested in a longitudinal study lasting over a period of 12 years involving children/adolescents and their parents (Frome & Eccles, 1998; Fredricks & Eccles, 2002; Simpkins, Fredericks, & Eccles, 2015). The results showed support for the hypothesis that parents influence children’s/adolescents’ motivation for school performance and that parents’ beliefs about their children’s/adolescents’ abilities and competencies are quite stable (Fredricks & Eccles, 2002). The findings also suggest that targeting parents prior to elementary school (when children are still developing their achievement-related motivation) will be a more effective method for increasing children’s long-term school motivation than targeting parents later in the elementary school years or even high school years when ESL is already present as a problem. These interventions can educate parents about how they can shape children’s beliefs about school by providing inputs about their emerging abilities and the value of different skills. The results also demonstrate the important role early motivational beliefs (e.g. self-concept of ability, task value) play in shaping achievement-related choices in high school.

Impact of parenting style on children’s/adolescents’ school engagement

School engagement is an important concept in most ESL theories (e.g. Finn, 1989; Newman, Wehlage, & Lambdorn, 1992; Rumberger & Larsson, 1998). Studies show that it is also related to academic achievement (Alexander, Entwisle, & Horsey, 1997; Finn, 1993; Finn & Rock, 1997; Rumberger, 1995).

Different studies indicate the importance of the proximal environment in fostering school engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Van Ryzin, Gravely, & Roseth, 2009). For example, Wang and Eccles (2012) found that social support from parents, teachers and peers facilitates adolescents’ school engagement. Results of the same study also showed that parental lack of social support (in comparison to peer lack of social support) was more important in reducing adolescents’ school engagement. Fewer studies have examined the importance of a multidimensional parenting style – a broader conceptualisation of child/adolescent upbringing in comparison to single-parent practice – to foster school engagement among adolescents (Simons-Morton & Chen, 2009). Findings from these studies indicate that authoritative parenting is positively associated with student school engagement (Simons-Morton & Chen, 2009; Steinberg et al., 1994). A recent study by Blondal and Adalbjarnardottir (2014) revealed that adolescents with more authoritative parents (high acceptance, supervision, and psychological autonomy granting) were more likely to finish school compared to adolescents with less authoritative parents. The level of school engagement partly mediated the relationship between authoritative parenting and school completion. These results stress the impact of parenting style on adolescents’ school engagement, which in turn reduces the risk of ESL (see Figure 1) (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2014).

Impact of parenting style and parenting practices on ESL

Studies researching the influence of parenting on children’s and adolescents’ school outcomes have mostly focused on specific parental practices such as parental involvement in a child’s education (McNeal, 1999; Rumberger, 1995) or parental support (Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabbani (2001). Parental involvement in school activities and contacts with teachers may help to identify a child’s struggles and intervene earlier to minimise the damage of a possible negative experience for the child (Chavkin & Williams, 1993).The extent to which parents are involved in their child’s schooling impacts their child’s perceptions about school and its importance (Chavkin & Williams, 1993). Oyserman, Brickman and Rhodes (2007) highlighted that parental involvement in school impacts children’s/adolescents’ belief that school is either important or unimportant, depending on the level of parental involvement provided. Studies have also shown that parental involvement in children’s homework is important for developing positive attitudes and study skills, which are essential for school success (Hoover-Dempsey, Battiato, Walker, Reed, DeJong, & Jones, 2001). McNeal (1999) referred to four types of parenting involvement (types of parenting social capital) that are associated with children’s/adolescents’ educational outcomes, including ESL: parent-child/adolescent discussion related to education, parental involvement in the parent-teacher organisation, parental monitoring of children’s/adolescents’ behaviour, and direct parental involvement in children’s/adolescents’ educational practices. Of these four types of parental involvement, McNeal found the extent to which parents and children/adolescents regularly discuss education issues (parent-child/adolescent discussion) had the greatest impact on educational outcomes. Parental support helps direct children/adolescents towards positive behaviour in school by reinforcing the notion of education as valuable and by monitoring children’s/adolescents’ engagement in school (McNeal, 1999; Pong, 1997).

Jimerson, Egeland, Sroufe and Carlson (2000) explored multiple predictors of high school ESL across adolescent development (a 19-year prospective longitudinal study). Their proposed model of ESL emphasises the importance of the early home environment and the quality of early caregiving influencing subsequent development. The results of this study indicate an important association of the early home environment, the quality of early caregiving, socio-economic status, IQ, behavioural problems, academic achievement, peer relations, and parent involvement with high school ESL at age 19. Correlations between maternal rejection and ESL were also found (Younge, Oetting, & Deffenbacher, 1996). Rejection and hostility scores of mothers whose sons had left school prior to completion and of mothers whose sons were doing well academically formed non-overlapping distributions. All mothers of early school leavers had higher hostility and rejection scores than mothers whose sons were doing well academically. The scores of mothers whose sons were still in school, but were experiencing academic problems, fell midway between these two groups and were significantly different from both (Younge, Oetting, & Deffenbacher, 1996).

The relationship between a broader conceptualisation of parenting practices (such as the parenting style) and ESL has not often been studied, although some studies have found a direct link between parenting style and school completion (see Figure 1). One of the cross-sectional studies in this field was conducted by Rumberger, Ghatak, Poulos, Ritter and Dornbusch (1990). The study was based on Baumrind’s (1971, 1991) parenting style typology and provides evidence that adolescents with authoritative parents are less likely to leave school prematurely compared to adolescents raised by permissive parents. Another longitudinal study (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2009) indicates that 14-year-olds from authoritative families are more likely to have completed upper secondary education by age 22 compared to adolescents from non-authoritative families (when controlling for gender, SES, temperament, and parental involvement).

Conclusions and implications for practice

The evidence presented in this article shows that specific parenting practices and also a broader concept of parental dimensions defined as parenting styles have an important impact on ESL and its prevention (e.g. Archambault, Janosz, Fallu, & Pagani, 2009; Ensminger, Lamkin, & Jacobson, 1996; Finn, 1989; Simpkins, Fredericks, & Eccles, 2015). For example, parent-child/adolescent relationship factors such as caregiving quality, parental support (instrumental and emotional), hostility and rejection, and parent-child/adolescent communications all predict ESL or, on the other hand, high school completion (e.g. Brewster & Bowen, 2004; Jimerson et al., 2000). In a broader conceptualisation of a child’s upbringing, such as the parenting style (as defined by Baumrind (1971)), authoritative parenting style (parents’ accepting, warm and encouraging yet firm behaviour towards their children/adolescents, with clear standards and expectations for their behaviour) has the most favourable impact on their development and also acts as an ESL preventive factor (e.g. Steinberg, 2001).

In the light of the presented findings and conclusions, it would be advisable to present these findings to parents, different profiles of school workers and multi-partner teams that focus in their work on preventing ESL and other school-related problems. Moreover, it might also be useful to present these findings to teachers since some researchers have compared teaching styles to parenting styles. They found that teachers’ characteristics similar to those parenting practices characterised as authoritative (warm and autonomy-supportive as opposed to controlling) were found to be positively related to student motivation, feelings of academic competence (e.g. Moos, 1978; Ryan, Stiller, & Lynch, 1994; Wentzel, 1997) and engagement (Fallu & Janosz, 2003; Crosnoe, Kirkpatrick, Johnson & Elder, 2004; Murray & Malgrem, 2005). Schools could, for example, develop various education and training courses where parents and teachers could be familiarised with practical ways of fostering an authoritative parenting/teaching style. Such parent/teacher training would help parents and teachers understand that by granting adolescents a greater degree of autonomy and responsibility they can support their academic achievements, their perception of self-efficacy and help them be more engaged in school and less inclined to leave school. Another idea would be to highlight the contents related to autonomy in children/adolescent upbringing as part of teachers’ initial educational programmes, thus contributing to the dissemination of study findings in the school sphere.

Different evaluations of ESL prevention programmes have shown (see Hall, 2014) the most successful strategy of ESL prevention engaged in by parent(s). Programmes with parental involvement, family counselling and conflict resolution components often achieved greater success than those without parental involvement (White, 2010). Students demonstrated increased attendance, improved academic motivation as well as improved performance and behaviour when their parents were also involved in ESL prevention programmes (Cheney, Stage, Hawken, Lynass, Mielenz, & Waugh, 2009). Moreover, parents could also be (more actively) included in the multi-partner cooperation with school professionals in teams working on the subject of preventing ESL. In this way, parents would be able to contribute their insights into the subject and also simultaneously learn from the professionals and establish a bridge between research and practice in the field of parenting.

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