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The relation between perceived parenting practices and achievement motivation in mathematics.

Abstract. In this study, perceived parenting styles and parental involvement were examined to determine if they predicted student motivation. The two views of motivation examined included achievement goal theory and self-determination theory. Algebra I students (N = 140) in a Southeast Texas public high school completed self-report surveys. Multivariate analyses indicated that perceived authoritative parenting was positively related to both a mastery goal orientation and higher relative autonomy. Permissive parenting was negatively related to a mastery orientation and positively related to a performance approach orientation. Authoritarian parenting was positively related to a performance approach orientation only. Also, behavioral involvement was positively related to both a performance approach and performance avoidance goal orientation. Generally, future research should include measures that are specific to the beliefs and attitudes of adolescents and that address more specific aspects of parenting styles.


Parents play an important role in the learning and academic achievement of their adolescent children. Although the obviousness of this simple conclusion makes it difficult to refute, understanding the particular pathways through which parents play a role in their adolescents' school performance is a more complex undertaking. One aspect of parenting that has been used to better understand these influences is parenting style. As initially described by Baumrind (1967), styles of parenting are generally described as patterns or configurations of parenting behaviors. In this study, the parenting styles of authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive, as described by Baumrind (1967), are considered.

A second way in which the role of parents has been investigated is by examining their active involvement in different contexts of adolescents' lives. Parent involvement reflects the extent to which parents are present and interject themselves into the lives of their children. With regard to this study, included in involvement will be such practices as attending school functions, helping with homework, or simply showing interest in what is occurring in school, as they may be important to a student's academic career. Parental involvement with both social aspects and intellectually stimulating activities beyond schoolwork also will be assessed, as proposed by Grolnick and Slowiaczek (1994).

Although parenting style and parent involvement might influence students' learning and academic achievement in many ways, we focus on their role in understanding adolescents' achievement motivation. Further, we focus on two prominent theories used to explain adolescents' tendency to initiate, persist at, and follow through with certain activities or tasks. The first, achievement goal theory (Ames & Archer, 1988; Middleton & Midgley, 1997), emphasizes the reasons or purposes that students adopt as they engage in academic tasks. The second, self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985), explains motivation as a function of innate psychological needs believed to be present to some extent in all individuals.

In short, the overall purpose of this study was to build on the research linking parents' practices to adolescents' school functioning by investigating two parenting styles and parent involvement and their relation to adolescents' achievement motivation, as represented by achievement goal theory and self-determination theory.

Parenting Styles

Based upon observations and interviews of children attending a university child care system and their parents, Baumrind (1967) initially conceptualized three different parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. Such factors as the way that a parent views his or her role, the parent's beliefs, and the ways that a parent's engagement and behavior influences a child are all aspects of parenting styles (Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993). An authoritarian parent stresses conformity, obedience, and respect for authority. Authoritarian parents may choose extracurricular activities, class schedules, and social events for their child, with no input from the child at all (Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987). Permissive parenting involves little enforcement of rules, few demands on adolescents, and a general acceptance of behavior, whether good or bad. The adolescent children of permissive parents may not be subject to a curfew, have few to no chores, and receive little direction regarding academics from their parents (Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992). Authoritative (or autonomy supportive) parents nurture exploration and individuality, openly communicate with their children, constructively respond to misbehavior, enforce rules, and stress learning as a responsibility of the child as well as parent. This type of parent may allow children to be a part of making the rules of the household. Authoritative parents also may allow for their child to express his or her individuality through the extracurricular activities and elective courses he or she chooses (Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993; Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992).

In her initial research, Baumrind (1967) concluded that the authoritative style of parenting fosters self-esteem, maturity, cognitive development, responsibility, and independence. Building on this conclusion, other researchers have considered the relation between parenting styles and children's motivation and achievement. For example, prior research has found some limited support for a positive relation between an authoritative style of parenting and relative autonomy (Grolnick & Ryan, 1989), intrinsic motivation (Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993; Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried, 1994), mastery goal orientation (Gonzalez, Doan Holbein, & Quilter, 2002; Gonzalez, Greenwood, & Hsu, 2001), and control understanding, perceived competence, and perceived autonomy (Grolnick, Ryan, & Deci, 1991). The present study extends the work in this area by investigating whether parenting style can be used to explain the goal orientations and feelings of autonomy expressed among a group of high school students.

Parent Involvement

Parental involvement describes the extent to which a parent is dedicated to, takes an interest in, is knowledgeable about, and is actively participating in the child's life (Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). Grolnick and Slowiaczek (1994) hypothesized parental involvement as being multidimensional according to the following three dimensions: behavioral involvement, personal involvement, and cognitive/intellectual involvement. Behavioral involvement included participating in and regularly attending school functions, which modeled the importance of school. Personal involvement included the child's affective experiences that reflect the positive feelings that a parent has conveyed to the child by his participative and interactive engagement in all aspects of schooling. Cognitive or intellectual involvement included exposing the child to cognitively and intellectually stimulating activities and materials, such as brainteasers, engaging books, and current event discussions.

These types of parental involvement have been coupled with student motivational outcomes similar to those relations found with parenting styles. For example, recent literature has supported a relation between parental involvement and mastery orientation (Gonzalez et al., 2002), and the mediational role that the motivational outcomes of perceived competence, control understanding, and relative autonomy played between involvement and academic performance (Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). The balance between too little involvement and excessive involvement, and the appropriateness of involvement, also has been examined in the literature (Eccles & Harold, 1996). Similarly, according to Ginsburg and Bronstein (1993), an excessive amount of parental involvement has been positively related to extrinsic motivation, suggesting that a healthy balance between excess and scarcity is necessary. In this study, we build on this work by investigating whether parent involvement, especially involvement at school or with school activities at home, can be used to predict adolescents' motivational beliefs.

Achievement Goal Theory

Researchers using achievement goal theory examine the purposes behind academic behaviors and the standards of evaluation that students use to assess their performance within achievement contexts (Ames, 1992; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Pintrich, Conley, & Kempler, 2003; Urdan, 1997). One of the focal aspects of this framework is the idea of goal orientations. According to Ames (1992), a goal orientation represents a pattern of beliefs that drive an individual's engagement in and reaction to achievement situations. In particular, goal orientations consider why individuals approach and engage in achievement tasks, while considering the standards by which the individual judges their performance and success in reaching their goal (Ames, 1992). Mastery and performance goal orientations have traditionally been studied most frequently (Ames & Archer, 1988; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Urdan, Midgley, & Anderman, 1998; Wolters, Yu, & Pintrich, 1996). More recently, researchers have identified approach and avoidance forms for both of these two goal orientations to create a two-by-two matrix (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Pintrich et al., 2003).

Students who adopt a mastery approach goal orientation are concerned with performing a task or behavior with the purpose of mastering it or learning the information on a deeper level (Ames, 1992; Pintrich & Garcia, 1991; Pintrich et al., 2003). Associated more with intrinsic motivation, mastery goals suggest a set of standards that are within an individual and that have little bearing on any normative properties. For example, a student with a mastery goal orientation may spend a great deal of time learning and trying to understand physics because he or she has the desire to become an astronaut and believes that understanding physics is fundamental to becoming one.

A performance approach goal orientation, which is linked more to extrinsic forms of motivation, is focused on more normative concerns, in that students adopting this type of goal are focused on performing a task for the purpose of demonstrating ability in comparison to others (Ames, 1992; Pintrich & Garcia, 1991). For example, a student with a performance approach orientation may spend a great deal of time doing work for physics because he or she wants to get an outstanding grade or outperform others in his or her class. Students who adopt performance avoidance goals are focused on avoiding failure or looking incompetent (Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Harackiewicz, Barron, Pintrich, Elliot, & Thrash, 2002; Middleton & Midgley, 1997). A physics student with performance avoidance goals may complete just enough work so that he does not appear less capable than other students, for example.

The accumulated evidence provides clear expectations regarding the relation of mastery and performance avoidance goals with students' academic performance. Mastery goals are most often associated with the use of more effective learning strategies, greater choice and engagement, and a more adaptive affective response to learning (Ames, 1992; Pintrich & Garcia, 1991; Wolters et al., 1996). In contrast, research indicates that students who adopt performance avoidance goals exhibit more detrimental academic outcomes, including poor use of learning strategies, a lack of persistence, procrastination, and lowered achievement (Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Harackiewicz et al., 2002).

With respect to academic outcomes, a conclusion about the adaptiveness of performance approach goals is still up for debate (Ames, 1992; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Harackiewicz et al., 2002). Some research has found this type of goal to be associated with the use of more superficial learning strategies, both cognitive and metacognitive (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Wolters et al., 1996). In contrast, other work has found that students who focus on doing better than others do tend to receive better classroom grades and higher standardized test scores (Wolters et al., 1996). Based on these conclusions, motivational researchers and practitioners are most likely to view a mastery goal orientation as most desirable.

Relative Autonomy

Ryan and Deci's (2000) self-determination theory concerns the innate psychological needs and inherent tendencies that surround self-motivation, or those internal forces that drive an individual to act or behave. According to this theory, the need for competence, relatedness, and autonomy are innate needs. That is, all people, to some extent, have a need to feel competent, to feel related, and to feel autonomous in their actions. Within an academic context, the need for competence would include a student's desire to feel that he or she is able and has the necessary ability to be successful. The need for relatedness reflects the desire for belonging and emotional safety in any given academic situation. Although of definite interest within academic settings, the need for competence and relatedness are not considered in the present study. Instead, the need for autonomy or the extent to which adolescents express feelings of self-determination is central to the present study.

Ryan and Connell (1989) discussed autonomy as an individual being choiceful in his or her actions and as being the locus of initiation of those actions. In particular, autonomy concerns the extent to which the initiation and regulation of an action is perceived by the individual as emanating from within (Grolnick et al., 1991). The choices being made are based upon interests and needs, but well within the realm of being responsible. This freedom and independence, coupled with responsibility and constructive guidance, can be highly self-motivating.

Self-determination theory includes a continuum that describes the level of autonomy an individual experiences while engaging in a given task (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Patrick, Skinner, & Connell, 1993; Ryan & Deci, 2000). The continuum begins with a motivation and proceeds to external, introjected, identified, integrated, and finally to intrinsic. According to this work, where a student falls on this continuum describes his or her relative autonomy, or how autonomous the student believes himself or herself to be, relative to the other levels of autonomy represented on the continuum. A person may engage in a task for external reasons--for a specific reward, such as candy, for example. There is very little autonomy and self-regulation at this point in the continuum, because some outside source, such as a teacher or parent, is facilitating the behavior. Next, a task or behavior may require introjected regulation, whereby the individual is engaged in order to avoid feelings of guilt or shame. The motivation is not purely external, but the individual may have not truly accepted the reason for engagement as his own. Identified regulation considers engagement to have originated externally to the individual, but have been accepted as one's own based upon an individual's goals for behavior. The usefulness of the task or behavior for the goals that he or she has adopted is internal, although the task or behavior is external or has originated from some outside source. Integrated regulation of tasks or behaviors has been fully assimilated to the values that an individual governs himself by. The origin of the reasons for engagement may still be external, but they identify with some trait or permanent component of the individual's personality or character. Finally, intrinsic regulation is based upon the most autonomous reasons for engaging in a task or behavior. The individual is self-regulated and highly autonomous, because the origin of the task or behavior emanates from within the person. This continuum is referred to as part of the organismic integration theory, which is another subset of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Prior research indicates that highly autonomous students tend to have more adaptive academic outcomes. For example, Grolnick et al. (1991) assessed the role of perceived autonomy as a mediator between students' perceptions of their parents' practices and their own academic performance. Perceived autonomy was found to be a predictor of a better academic performance. Similarly, relative autonomy was predictive of adaptive adjustment in an academic setting (Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994) under similar conditions. Based upon these findings, further research regarding predictors of relative autonomy, and their relationship to student performance, is necessary.

Goal Orientation and Autonomy

Achievement goal theory's mastery orientation is related to the qualities of an autonomous child (Gonzalez et al., 2002). An individual who adopts a mastery goal orientation may be exploratory, self-reliant, and intrinsically motivated. These qualities are similar to those that describe an individual who is autonomous (Ryan & Deci, 2000). From a theoretical standpoint, it seems logical that an individual who is mastery oriented will feel more autonomous, and an individual who feels more autonomous will be focused on mastery goals. The relation between the two constructs will be examined by the present study to determine if, in fact, a positive relation exists, as this relation has not yet been supported by the literature in motivational research. If a positive relation exists, then the implications for fostering autonomy may contribute to the implications that a mastery orientation also should be fostered, and vice versa.

Research Questions

As noted above, the primary purpose of this study was to examine two aspects of parenting and their relation to motivational beliefs and attitudes known to be important for academic achievement. In order to meet this goal, two related research questions are addressed. First, we examine the extent to which three student-reported parenting styles can be used to predict students' self-reported goal orientations and feelings of relative autonomy. Based on prior research, our strongest expectation was that parents perceived as more authoritative would have children who expressed more adaptive intrinsic forms of achievement motivation. Second, we also explore the extent to which student-reported parent involvement can be used to predict students' motivational beliefs and attitudes. Based on prior research, we hypothesized that greater parent involvement would be associated with a more adaptive pattern of motivational beliefs.

A secondary goal of the present study was to investigate the relations between students' goal orientations and their perceived level of autonomy. In particular, we were interested in examining the relation between students' self-reported focus on mastery goals and their reported feelings of autonomy. As described above, a mastery goal orientation and feelings of autonomy share similar characteristics. Hence, our hypothesis was that these constructs would be positively related and would be associated with the parenting variables in a similar manner.



Participants were 140 students (55 percent female) from a southeast Texas public high school enrolled in an algebra course. The participants reflected 48 percent of the population enrolled in an algebra course. Most participants ranged in age from 14 to 17 years, although three participants were 18, 19, and 20 years old. The participants were primarily 9th-grade students (n = 122, 87 percent), although there were also some 10th-grade students (n = 14, 10 percent) and a few 11th-graders (n = 4, 3 percent). With regard to ethnicity, 52 (37 percent) of the students identified themselves as Hispanic, 48 (35 percent) as African American, 20 (14 percent) as white, 13 (9 percent) as "other," and 7 (5 percent) as Asian American.


All participants completed a self-report survey that included 76 items. Each item on this survey used a 7-point Likert scale continuum ranging from Not at all true (1) to Very true (7), except for the parental involvement scales, which ranged from Never (1) to Always (7). With consideration to both scales, (1) and (7) indicated the two anchors, and all other points were relative to those two anchors. Survey items were drawn from the four separate instruments described below.

Perceived Parenting Styles. The Self-Report Measure of Family Functioning (Bloom, 1985) was used to measure three parenting styles, each with five items. Authoritative parenting reflected the degree to which students reported their parents as being more democratic, autonomy supportive, and open to joint decision-making ([alpha] = .67). Permissive parenting reflected the degree to which participants reported their parents as being more laissez-faire, and not enforcing, creating, or being consistent with rules ([alpha] = .59). Authoritarian parenting reflected the degree to which participants reported their parents as being strict and unilateral in decision-making ([alpha] = .44).

Perceived Parental Involvement. Twenty-three items from the Parent Involvement Measure (Keith, Reimers, Fehrmann, Pottebaum, & Aubey, 1986; Wellborn & Grolnick, 1988) were used to assess students' perceptions of their parents' involvement in their academic and social lives. Consistent with Grolnick and Slowiaczek (1994), these items were used to create three scales. Behavioral involvement reflected the degree to which participants perceived their parents as going to school functions and being involved or interested in their schooling while at home (12 items, [alpha] = .82). Cognitive involvement reflected the degree to which participants reported their parents as exposing them to cognitively stimulating activities beyond schoolwork (5 items, [alpha] = .83). Personal involvement reflected the degree to which participants reported their parents as being concerned with academic, as well as social, aspects of school (6 items, [alpha] = .85).

Goal Orientations. Three goal orientations were measured using items from the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey (Midgley et al., 1998). Mastery orientation included five items that reflected the degree to which participants reported completing tasks in their math class in order to master new material or improve their abilities ([alpha] = .93). Performance approach orientation included five items that reflected the degree to which participants reported completing their math work in order to get good grades or perform better than others ([alpha] = .91). Finally, performance avoidance orientation included four items that reflected the degree to which participants reported completing their math work in order to avoid looking "stupid" or less capable of success than their peers ([alpha] = .76).

Relative Autonomy. Each participant's level of relative autonomy was measured using the Academic Self-regulation Questionnaire (ASRQ; Ryan & Connell, 1989). The ASRQ assessed students' reported styles of regulating academic behaviors, ranging from external control to autonomous self-regulation. This questionnaire presented students with 16 questions concerning their engagement in academic-related activities (e.g., When you do your homework, why do you do it?). After each question, participants responded to four items that assessed different motivations (e.g., for fun, understanding, obedience, or avoidance of guilt). Across questions, similar items were summed to create four subscales representing external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, and intrinsic regulation. Following the process outlined by Grolnick and Slowiaczek (1994), participants' scores on these subscales then were weighted and combined to create a Relative Autonomy Index (relative autonomy). Scores on this scale could range from -14 to 14 and reflected the degree to which individuals felt autonomous in regulating extrinsically motivating behaviors or tasks.


All students taking algebra in the school were asked to participate and were provided a consent form to be signed by a parent. Students who returned signed consent forms were gathered in groups of about 40 to complete the survey in a large meeting room. A researcher passed out the study materials, read a standardized set of instructions, allowed students to complete the survey on their own, and collected materials as students finished. Two weeks later, the researcher returned to administer the survey to 20 students who had returned consent forms but were absent the day of the first sessions.


Results are divided into three sections. First, descriptive information concerning each of the variables is presented. Second, the bivariate relations between the parenting and motivation variables are evaluated. Finally, relations between motivation, parenting, and demographic variables are examined, using multiple regressions.

Descriptive Statistics

The mean and standard deviation for each variable in this study are presented in Table 1. The means for the motivation constructs remained near the midpoint of the response scale. This finding was reflective of some of the other studies concerning parenting practices and motivation with adolescents (Gonzalez et al., 2002; Gottfried et al., 1994; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991).

Bivariate Analyses

As presented in Table 2, the bivariate correlations among the parenting and motivation variables provide for several notable conclusions. Although authoritative and authoritarian were unrelated to each other, they each showed a pattern of positive associations with the involvement measures and with mastery orientation. These relations were generally stronger for authoritative, and only this style was related to relative autonomy. In contrast, permissive parenting had a pattern of negative relations that included both of the other parenting styles, two of the involvement measures, and mastery orientation. Correlations among the different involvement measures were high, indicating that parents who were perceived as involved in one aspect of their children's lives also tended to be perceived as involved in other areas. Interestingly, the involvement scales showed a more consistent pattern of positive correlations with the two performance orientations than with either mastery orientation or relative autonomy. On average, students who reported their parents as being more involved also reported engaging in their schoolwork for reasons based upon normative goals and for the purpose of avoiding negative outcomes. Finally, these results indicate that students who reported more mastery-oriented reasons for engagement in academic tasks also tended to report feeling more autonomous in regulating their academic behaviors. In contrast, students who reported a greater focus on either type of performance goal tended to report lower levels of relative autonomy.

Multivariate Analyses

A series of two-step hierarchical multivariate regressions were utilized to examine further the relation between the parental practices and the four motivational constructs. In the first step of each regression, gender and level of mother's education were entered as predictors. In the second step, the three parenting styles and behavioral involvement were added as a block. This analytic strategy was selected because it provided information regarding the extent to which the parenting variables (as a group, as well as individually) could be used to predict each motivational outcome, after accounting for demographic differences. The cognitive and personal involvement scales were excluded from these analyses because of their high inter-correlations, which mirrors the results found in Grolnick and Slowiaczek (1994). Table 3 presents the results from these analyses for each of the four student motivational constructs. Because our focus was on parenting practices, results from the first step of these analyses are presented in Table 3 but are not discussed below.

Mastery Orientation. Results from the second step of these analyses indicated that parenting style and parental involvement constructs accounted for an additional 17 percent of the variance ([R.sup.2] [DELTA]= .17, p < .001), leading to a total of 21 percent of the variance in students' self-reported adoption of a mastery orientation (F(6,135) = 5.60, p < .001) after accounting for mother's education and gender. Authoritative parenting was the strongest individual predictor ([beta] = .30, p < .001), although permissive parenting ([beta] = -.19, p < .05) also accounted for a significant portion of the variance in mastery orientation. On average, having a more democratic and warm parent was predictive of a student being more oriented toward engaging in academic tasks for the purpose of improving or overcoming a challenge. None of the other variables were significant individual predictors of mastery orientation.

Performance Approach Orientation. Results indicated that adding the parenting variables as a group in step 2 accounted for an additional 16 percent of the variance ([R.sup.2] [DELTA] = .16, p < .001), leading to a total of 16 percent of the variance in students' self-reported adoption of a performance approach orientation, (F(6,135) = 4.00, p < .001). Behavioral involvement ([beta] = .34, p < .001), permissive parenting ([beta] = .24, p < .05), and authoritarian parenting ([beta] = .20, p < .05) each individually accounted for a significant portion of the variance in this form of motivation. Generally, students who reported their parents as involved in the academic aspects of their life, laissez-faire in their parenting, or strict and inflexible in their parenting, also tended to report engaging in academic tasks for reasons based on more normative standards. Net of the other predictors, gender, level of mother's education, and authoritative parenting did not individually predict performance approach orientation.

Performance Avoidance Orientation. Adding the parenting variables to the analyses in step 2 accounted for an additional 13 percent of the variance ([R.sup.2] [DELTA] = .13,p < .05) in performance avoidance orientation (F(6,134) = 3.23, p < .01). Behavioral involvement served as the strongest individual predictor of a performance avoidance orientation ([beta] = .29, p < .001). Students who perceived their parents as more involved in academic activities, at both school and home, tended to report engaging in academic tasks for the purpose of avoiding failure or appearing incapable. Even when accounting for all the parenting variables, males ([beta] = -.17, p < .05) and students with a less-educated mother ([beta] = -.13, p < .05) tended to report a greater focus on performance avoidance goals. None of the parenting styles individually predicted performance avoidance orientation.

Relative Autonomy. As noted in Table 3, adding the parenting variables in step 2 increased the amount of variance ([R.sup.2] [DELTA] = .08, p < .05) by 8 percent, totaling 14 percent of the variance (F(6,134) = 3.47, p < .01) in relative autonomy. Authoritative parenting served as the strongest individual predictor of relative autonomy ([beta] = .27, p < .01). Hence, students who perceived their parents as more democratic reported feeling, on average, more autonomous in their academic behaviors. Results also indicate that, overall, boys expressed a higher degree of relative autonomy than girls ([beta] = .17, p < .05). Mother's education, authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting, and behavioral involvement did not individually predict relative autonomy.


In this study, we examined two aspects of parenting: parents' typical form of interactions with their adolescent children, or parenting style; and the extent to which parents were involved in different aspects of their adolescents' schooling. The primary goal of this study was to evaluate the relations between these two aspects of parenting and adolescents' achievement motivation for mathematics. Motivation was conceptualized using both achievement goal theory (Ames, 1992; Pintrich et al., 2003) and self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985). This final section of the article reviews findings with regard to this primary goal by first considering the relation of motivation to parenting style and then examining parent involvement. Next, we address a secondary goal of the study by evaluating the relation between the different motivational constructs. Finally, we discuss some limitations and general conclusions for this study. Parenting Style and Adolescent Motivation Findings from this study generally support the view that students' perceptions about their parents' ongoing and typical parental practices are related to their self-reported achievement motivation. One more specific and noteworthy conclusion is that authoritative parenting is associated with more adaptive motivational beliefs and attitudes. In particular, we found that parents who were perceived to be more authoritative, or democratic, firm, communicative, nurturing, and supportive of independence, had adolescents who tended to adopt goals that reflect intrinsic motivations, such as improving their abilities, the enjoyment of learning, and overcoming a challenge. This finding is similar to that of Gonzalez et al. (2001, 2002), who found among older high school and college level students a positive relation between maternal authoritativeness and students' tendency to adopt mastery goals.

In line with these results, findings indicate that students who perceived their parents to be more authoritative also saw their engagement in academic tasks as a result of their own values or decisions. For example, they believed themselves to be the origin of their behaviors, not necessarily acting upon the instructions of their parent or teacher. That is, students who believe their parents to be more democratic and warm also tended to feel more autonomous in pursuing and regulating their academic behaviors. This finding was similar to the earlier finding that parental autonomy support, which is analogous to authoritative parenting, was positively related to students' greater feelings of autonomy in general (Grolnick & Ryan, 1989).

As a whole, these findings add further support regarding the adaptiveness of authoritative forms of parenting. In the past, this style of parenting has been associated with intrinsic motivation (Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993; Gottfried et al., 1994), mastery goal orientation (Gonzalez et al., 2001, 2002), and control understanding, perceived competence, and perceived autonomy (Grolnick et al., 1991). The present study builds on this earlier work by showing that more democratic, warm, and firm, but nurturing, forms of parenting also are associated with aspects of achievement motivation, not yet focused upon or defined in this manner, that are most often viewed as adaptive for learning and achievement.

A second conclusion supported by the present findings is that permissive parenting is associated with a generally less adaptive pattern of motivation. Results showed that students who perceived their parents as more laissez-faire or permissive also reported being less focused on improving themselves or overcoming challenges when completing their math work. This finding is similar to that of Baumrind (1967), who observed the children of more permissive parents and found them to be less independent and self-reliant. Perhaps the lack of guidance that often characterizes a permissive parent does not encourage or model the inherent interest in mastering new information and developing self-set standards for achievement that often defines mastery-oriented students. Interestingly, permissive parenting was not associated with decreased feelings of autonomy.

At the same time and contrary to expectations, students who viewed their parents as being more permissive also reported a greater focus on performance approach goals. This type of connection has not been reported previously. One explanation for this connection is that the laissez-faire parenting style may leave students little choice but to adhere to the normative standards that are often emphasized within schools. As proposed by Festing (1954), when more fixed standards are not clearly defined or, in some cases, unavailable to a child in his/her immediate environment, standards that are more socially based and that foster social comparisons are more likely. Of course, adopting performance approach goals or pursuing normative standards more generally cannot, in isolation, be considered detrimental. There is ample evidence that this type of goal can be beneficial, especially when standards are positive, functional, and lead to progress toward a broader goal (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Harackiewicz et al., 2002; Middleton & Midgley, 1997). However, when combined with the lowered emphasis on mastery goals, the increased focus on performance approach goals (found with regard to permissive parenting) can more appropriately be characterized as associated with a maladaptive motivational profile (Gonzalez et al., 2001).

Unlike the other two parenting styles, authoritarian parenting was not associated clearly with either an adaptive or maladaptive pattern of motivational beliefs. As with permissive parenting, findings showed that authoritarian parenting was a positive predictor of students' adoption of performance approach goals. Meaning, students who saw their parents as strict and dictating adherence to a clear set of parent-defined rules tended to report a greater focus on doing their math work in order to outperform others. This link is similar to one found between paternal authoritarianism and performance goals in Gonzalez et al. (2001). A likely explanation for this connection is that authoritarian parents dictate that their children must do well in school and equate doing well with getting good grades or performing better than others. It is these goals that their children use as a focus for their engagement in school activities. This finding is more equivocal, because authoritarian parenting was not also associated with a reduced focus on mastery goals. In fact, the bivariate relation between these two constructs was positive. Hence, it is difficult to draw a firm conclusion regarding authoritarian parenting, in as much as performance approach goals alone are not viewed as maladaptive and even can be associated with some positive outcomes (Wolters et al., 1996).

Parent Involvement and Adolescent Motivation

The second aspect of parenting explored in the present study was parents' involvement in different aspects of their adolescents' daily lives, with an emphasis on their involvement in academic contexts. Overall, the findings indicate that parents' involvement in the academic lives of their adolescent children was not associated with the more intrinsic forms of achievement motivation studied here. In particular, the present study failed to find that parents' involvement at school and in academic activities at home was related positively to a mastery orientation. That is, students who viewed their parents as active at their school or involved with their academic work at home were not more likely to report adopting intrinsic reasons for completing their math work. In the same way, the findings failed to show a link between parent involvement and students' feelings of relative autonomy. These findings contradict earlier research with younger children by Grolnick and Slowiaczek (1994). These researchers found that perceived parental involvement was associated with an increased adoption of mastery goals and greater feelings of autonomy in middle school students. Taken together, these findings suggest that the benefits to intrinsic motivation provided by increased parent involvement in school activities among younger adolescents may dissipate by the time students reach high school. This pattern is consistent with the longstanding view that students desire greater autonomy and less direct involvement by parents as they advance through adolescence (Eccles & Harold, 1996; Lamborn, Brown, Mounts, & Steinberg, 1992; Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989).

Parent involvement, in contrast, was associated positively with both the more performance or extrinsic forms of achievement motivation in the study. In contrast to some recent work using a more general measure of performance orientation (Gonzalez et al., 2001, 2002), the results show that students who believed their parents to be more involved in school functions and with homework also tended to adopt achievement goals based on outperforming others, as well as for reasons based on avoiding feeling inferior or less capable than their peers. As a whole, these findings suggest that when parents are more closely involved, adolescents are more likely to focus on achieving goals that are based on extrinsic or normative standards.

One possible explanation for this relation is that having a parent involved in several aspects of a student's schooling may elicit feelings of needing to perform above and beyond not only peers but also the standards set by the parent. The standards set by a parent may be normative in nature or based upon what they believe to be a "good grade" or a successful performance. In any case, if a student believes that his or her parent will be present for school functions, question how well he or she is doing, maintain regular contact with the teacher, and perhaps make random visits or make random phone calls to the school, the student may believe that getting better grades or doing better than classmates will render a positive report for his or her highly involved parents. At the same time, this form of parent involvement also might make adolescents more likely to set goals that will allow them to avoid looking inferior or less intelligent than others. As with performance approach orientation, this avoidance occurs so that parents who have proven themselves involved to the student will receive only positive reports of their academic standing or participation in the classroom.

Linking Goal Orientations and Relative Autonomy

In line with the secondary purpose of the present study, the findings also provide some insight into the relation between adolescents' goal orientations and their feelings of relative autonomy. The bivariate correlations between relative autonomy and the three goal orientations were much as expected. Students who professed to engage in math tasks for the sake of learning also tended to report greater feelings of autonomy with regard to math. In contrast, the more that students reported a focus on either approach or avoidance performance goals, the less likely they were to express feelings of autonomy in their schoolwork. These findings fit with the portrayal of both mastery and relative autonomy as derived from or associated with intrinsic forms of motivation and performance goals as more extrinsically based (Gonzalez et al., 2001, 2002; Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994).

The patterns of findings in the multivariate analyses also suggest similarities between mastery orientation and relative autonomy. In particular, both were most strongly predicted by whether parents were perceived as authoritarian. There were, however, two notable differences between these forms of motivation. One, mastery orientation appeared to be more closely linked to permissive parenting than was relative autonomy. Two, relative autonomy, compared to mastery orientation, showed a stronger negative link to both forms of performance goals. Taken together, these findings indicate that the adoption of mastery goals and feelings of autonomy reflect related but distinct intrinsic-based aspects of students' achievement motivation.

Future research should continue to pursue this relation as it pertains to specific aspects of different parenting styles, such as decision-making patterns and allowance of exploratory behaviors. As authoritative parenting consists of several components, examining the specific components may bring further insight into those aspects that show a relation to more adaptive patterns of motivation and achievement.


One limitation of this study is the correlational nature of the data. Because of this design, it is not possible to draw causal conclusions about the relations among the parenting and motivational constructs. Although the form of the analyses implies that motivational constructs--such as a mastery orientation--are a result of parenting variables, the opposite causal influence also may be true. That is, it may be that students who are more mastery oriented elicit more flexibility, warmth, and democracy from their parents. Similarly, parents may become more involved with students who, for other reasons, become focused on performance approach or performance avoidance goals in their schoolwork.

Another limitation of the study includes the low level of reliability for the authoritarian parenting scale. The authoritarian scale has previously indicated moderate reliability for similar age groups (Lamborn et al., 1991; Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991). It may be that the items are not being written in a way that they describe the idea of strictness, obedience to rules, and inflexibility in a manner understood by the older adolescents in this study. Further, the low reliability for the authoritarian scale might help to explain why this parenting style was not a predictor for any of the motivational variables in this study. Future research that incorporates a more reliable measure of this type of parenting would help clarify these issues.

A third limitation of this study concerns the multicollinearity among the parental involvement scale. Previous research has found the behavioral, cognitive, and personal involvement scales to be separate constructs, reflecting three separate aspects of parental involvement (Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). However, the high multicollinearity of these measures precluded them all from being used in the multivariate analyses included in this study. We chose to include the form of parent involvement that best defined the parent's active participation at the school and had previously been most potent in predicting academic success and motivation (Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). Future research may include a factor analysis of the items to determine which items are detecting separate and independent involvement practices.


One implication of this study concerns parenting education and its provision in school districts. If parenting practices do indeed influence student motivation, which in turn influences student achievement, then it would benefit student progress to explicitly impart knowledge regarding the most adaptive types of parenting behaviors (Eccles & Harold, 1996; Steinberg et al., 1992). Parenting education that focuses upon the best practices for promoting students' academic excellence needs to be coupled with the more traditional parent courses that focus a great deal on curriculum, fundraising, and practical applications of subject matter. This particular scenario would include not only the "how-to" and "what," but also the "why" of parent intervention. That is, impart information as to what they should be practicing in and out of school and the rationale for those practices.

Another implication includes informing teachers as to their role in parental involvement. Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1997) contend that parental beliefs, including those concerning efficacy, influence parental involvement, just as the opportunities that are afforded to parental involvement within their child's educational institution influence how involved parents become. Describing the practices that teachers should be committed to in order to have the appropriate amount and type of involvement is key. They would include, for example, instituting a dialogue journal that parents may use to communicate with the teacher, having well-defined roles and schedules for parent volunteers, and occasionally writing notes home that include only positive statements about the child. Recognizing the educator's role in parental involvement and becoming an enthusiastic and active participant can only enhance the child's academic experience.


Despite the limitations of this study, the results provide important insight into the relations between two aspects of parenting and adolescents' achievement motivation. The findings add to the evidence showing the relative adaptiveness of some forms of parenting (e.g., authoritative) as well as the disadvantages of others (e.g., permissive). At the same time, the present study provides some initial evidence indicating that parent involvement can be associated with more extrinsic or performance-based forms of motivation among older adolescents. Finally, the results contribute evidence that more concretely links a mastery goal orientation and students' feelings of relative autonomy. More generally, future research should continue to examine parenting practices, such as parenting style and involvement, to determine the optimal situation for fostering students' more adaptive patterns of motivation.


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Ana-Lisa Gonzalez

Christopher A. Wolters

University of Houston
Table 1
Means and Standard Deviations for Parenting and Motivation Variables

Variable N M (SD)

Parenting Variables
Authoritative 139 4.23 (1.29)
Permissive 139 3.23 (1.26)
Authoritarian 140 4.19 (1.16)
Cognitive parental involvement 139 3.58 (1.61)
Personal parental involvement 138 4.71 (1.70)
Behavioral parental involvement 139 3.97 (1.49)

Motivational Variables
Mastery goal orientation 138 5.63 (1.47)
Performance approach orientation 138 4.28 (1.78)
Performance avoidance orientation 137 4.28 (1.69)
Relative Autonomy Index 138 0.06 (4.13)

Note. N varies due to missing data

Table 2
Correlations Between Parenting Practices and Motivational Variables

 2. 3. 4.

Parenting Variables
 1. Authoritative -.05 -.20 * .29 **
 2. Authoritarian -- -.50 ** .17
 3. Permissive -- -.17
 4. Behavioral Involvement --
 5. Cognitive Involvement
 6. Personal Involvement
Motivation Variables
 7. Mastery goal orientation
 8. Perf. approach orientation
 9. Perf. avoidance orientation
 10. Relative autonomy

 5. 6. 7.

Parenting Variables
 1. Authoritative .33 ** .34 ** .34 **
 2. Authoritarian .20 * .26 ** .21 *
 3. Permissive -.20 * -.26 ** -.35 **
 4. Behavioral Involvement .77 ** .81 ** .11
 5. Cognitive Involvement -- .70 ** .05
 6. Personal Involvement -- .21 *
Motivation Variables
 7. Mastery goal orientation --
 8. Perf. approach orientation
 9. Perf. avoidance orientation
 10. Relative autonomy

 6. 9. 10.

Parenting Variables
 1. Authoritative .05 -.01 .29 **
 2. Authoritarian .16 .11 -.02
 3. Permissive .05 .03 -.10
 4. Behavioral Involvement .32 ** .27 ** .06
 5. Cognitive Involvement .18 * .08 .08
 6. Personal Involvement .26 ** .17 * .14
Motivation Variables
 7. Mastery goal orientation .17 * .05 .26 **
 8. Perf. approach orientation -- .78 ** -.21 *
 9. Perf. avoidance orientation -- -.34 **
 10. Relative autonomy --

Note. * p < .05. ** p < .01

Table 3 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables
Predicting Motivational Outcomes

 Mastery Performance
 Approach GO

Variable B SE B [beta] B SE B [beta]

Step 1
 Gender -.44 .25 -.15 -.17 .31 -.05
 Mother's educ.
 lvl. .10 .06 .13 -.01 .08 -.01
Step 2
 Gender -.27 .23 -.09 -.34 .30 -.09
 Mother's educ.
 lvl. .05 .06 .07 .03 .08
 Authoritative .34 .10 .30 *** .01 .12
 Permissive -.22 .11 -.19 * .35 .14 .24 *
 Authoritarian .13 .12 .10 .32 .15 .20 *
 Behavioral Inv. -.02 .08 -.02 .41 .11 .34 ***

 Performance RAI
 Avoidance GO

Variable B SE B [beta] B SE B [beta]

Step 1
 Gender -.46 .29 -.14 1.10 .70 .13
 Mother's educ.
 lvl. -.14 .08 -.16 .44 .18 .21 *
Step 2
 Gender -.59 .29 -.17 * 1.40 70 .17 *
 Mother's educ.
 lvl. -.11 .08 -.13 * .33 .18 .15
 Authoritative -.05 .12 -.04 .87 .29 .27 **
 Permissive .20 .14 .15 -.34 .34 -.10
 Authoritarian .14 .14 .10 -.16 .30 -.05
 Behavioral Inv. .34 .10 .29 ** -.11 .25 -.04

Note. Mastery: [R.sup.2] = .04. for Step 1; [DELTA] [R.sup.2] = .17.
(p < .001) for Step 2. Performance Approach: [R.sup.2] = .00. for
Step 1; [DELTA] [R.sup.2] = .16. (p < .001) for Step 2. Performance
Avoidance: [R.sup.2] = .04. for Step 1; [DELTA] [R.sup.2] = .0.
(p < .01) for Step 2. RAI: [R.sup.2] = .06. (p < .05) for Step 1;
[DELTA] [R.sup.2] =. 08. (p < .05) for Step 2

* p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001.
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Author:Wolters, Christopher A.
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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