Teachers, Parents Better Than Peers At  Keeping Teens Engaged In School
March 23, 2012

Teachers, Parents Better Than Peers At Keeping Teens Engaged In School

Derek Walter for RedOrbit.com

It turns out that not all teens are too cool for school.

According to a recent University of Michigan study, it is parents and teachers, not teenage peers, which hold the most weight in what teenagers think about school and academic achievement.

"We were surprised to find that most adolescents continue to be influenced greatly by their teachers and parents when it comes to school engagement," said Ming-Te Wang, the lead author of the study and a faculty research fellow at University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

"Even though this is a stage when young people are moving toward establishing autonomy and independence, teachers and parents remain important in helping them stay involved in school, and in extracurricular activities. And this is true for all ethnic groups and races, and across all the economic groups we studied."

The authors studied about 1,500 teens from 23 schools in the Washington, D.C. area.  The students were interviewed in seventh, ninth, and 11th grades. The researchers focused on four areas of school engagement: complying with school rules, participation in extracurricular activities, the value one places on education and how strongly one identifies with their school.

The authors confirmed one of their predictions; student engagement across these measures declines from 7th through 12th grades. According to the data, the researchers believed a major factor behind this was the more limited role that teachers are able to play as most students leave the self-contained classrooms of elementary school and move to the more demanding, single-subject oriented world of junior high and high school.

Teens´ move away from their parents is actually something that teachers can tap in to in order to make a positive difference with them, the researchers concluded. As teens begin to take steps toward independence and away from their parents, teachers are uniquely positioned to fill the gap with positive and meaningful messages.

"Adolescence is a period when relationships with adults who aren't your parents become increasingly important," Wang said. "Our results suggest that supportive teachers play a particularly important role in keeping teens engaged in school."

Results were more mixed as to why boys tend to disconnect more than girls. The authors theorized that parents and teachers have an underlying difference in expectations for both genders.

"For instance, parents tend to monitor girls' progress more closely, correct girls' mistakes and make decisions for girls more than they do for boys," Wang said. "These practices may communicate to girls, more so than to boys, the importance of regulating progress toward one's goals and meeting those goals,” she said.

"Teachers also tend to respond differently to boys and girls in the classroom, in ways that may lead students to believe that certain behavior patterns associated with their gender are expected by their teachers."

The authors found that for both genders, the positive, ongoing encouragement of teachers could counteract any of the common influences of negativity. It goes a long way toward keeping students engaged in school and maintaining a positive attitude about achievement.

Building these relationship so that this kind of attitude can foster will continue to be critical, they said.

The study was originally published in the current issue of Child Development.