Parents' expectations, styles can harm college students' self-esteem

Aug 15, 2008

Mom and Dad are going to flip out over my 3.3 GPA and failure to land a top internship. Such anxieties, common among college students, can harm self-esteem and make it more difficult to adjust to school. But a new University of Central Florida study has found that students' anxieties often are based on exaggerated perceptions of what their parents expect.

The problem, UCF psychologist Kimberly Renk says, is that many parents and students hold different perceptions of what the parents' expectations are. Students often are trying to meet goals far tougher than the ideals their parents have in mind.

The study, which involved surveys of 174 students and 230 of their parents, is published online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence and is scheduled for the September edition.

A separate study by Renk -- published this summer in the Journal of Family Issues -- is among the first to examine how parenting styles remain a strong influence on how students adjust to college. Students reported making smoother transitions to college if they have at least one parent whose style combines warmth, a demanding nature and democracy -- the same combination that is best for young children.

Renk, the mother of a kindergartner and an infant, directs UCF's Understanding Children and Families laboratory, which seeks to better the lives of children and their families through research, clinical work and community service.

She said parents' influences on college students may be growing at a time when cell phones and other technology make it easier for students to stay connected with and rely on their parents.

"Many people still assume that parenting ends when a child turns 18, but in our culture today, there is a longer extension of adolescence," Renk said. "Adulthood is starting later."

Renk and then-UCF doctoral student Allison Kanter Agliata began their study of parental expectations by surveying 174 freshmen and sophomores. With the students' permission, they then collected 138 surveys from mothers and 92 from fathers. Questions focused on perceptions of personal maturity, academic achievement and dating. Other questions covered how well parents and students thought they communicate with each other.

While most students were meeting or exceeding their parents' expectations, many still thought they were falling short, and those students reported lower self-worth and more trouble adjusting to college.

In light of that finding, Renk recommends that schools and universities teach assertive communication skills to parents and students to help them avoid unnecessary stress about expectations.

In the second study, Renk and then-doctoral student Cliff McKinney found that students who perceive that they have at least one authoritative parent – someone whose style combines warmth, a demanding nature and democracy – adjust better to college than students whose parenting styles are too authoritarian, permissive or neglectful.

Several studies by Renk and other researchers have shown the benefits of authoritative parenting for younger children.

For parents who may be concerned that they have been too permissive or too authoritarian, it's not too late to change, Renk said. She added that it takes time for parents to change their styles and that they should not give up if they fail at first.

"Everything is not lost if you are the parent of a college student and trying to do a better job," she said. "If you are open and ready to listen to what they have to say, that will help you build a stronger relationship."

Source: University of Central Florida

Explore further: Publisher pushback puts open access in peril

Related Stories

Public boarding school—the way to solve educational ills?

Apr 25, 2015

Buffalo's chronically struggling school system is considering an idea gaining momentum in other cities: public boarding schools that put round-the-clock attention on students and away from such daunting problems as poverty, ...

College rankings go under the microscope

Apr 19, 2015

Parents, students and admissions officials have combed through college and university rankings for years. However, education researchers have largely ignored the controversial lists. That's about to change, according to a ...

Recommended for you

Top UK scientists warn against EU exit

19 hours ago

A group of leading British scientists including Nobel-winning geneticist Paul Nurse warned leaving the European Union could threaten research funding, in a letter published in The Times newspaper on Friday.

Publisher pushback puts open access in peril

May 21, 2015

Delegates at the The Higher Education Technology Agenda (THETA) conference on the Gold Coast last week heard from futurist Bryan Alexander about four possible scenarios for the future of knowledge. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.