As the days wane in late summer, so do parents’ bank accounts as they invest in school supplies for their children. In fact, reports show that this year, per-family expenditures to equip their young students has risen 10 percent since last year (second only to holiday spending), and when electronics and clothing are included, the national back-to-school bill could be a whopping $55 billion. Yet even more important to their children’s prospects for success in school than financial investment is the investment of parents’ time, attention, and presence.
From their earliest years, preschoolers whose parents are very involved with their schools tend to score higher in all aspects of school readiness. Similarly, children whose parents read to them more often exhibit greater cognitive development, and children whose parents are more involved are more likely to succeed academically. For example, among a sample of diverse low-income families, fathers’ interaction with their two-year-olds was correlated with the children’s social and cognitive development at that age as well as a year later. Even parental involvement in simple leisure activities is associated with an increase in children’s academic performance. Parental involvement is also linked to a greater likelihood that children will graduate from high school and pursue higher education.
Moreover, the impact of parents’ involvement in their children’s formative years can have an influence throughout their lives. For example, children who have positive relationships with their mothers in kindergarten are more likely to excel in middle school, children whose fathers show more involvement during their childhood tend to achieve higher levels of education later in life, and children whose parents are more involved with their activities during elementary school are more likely to graduate from high school.
In addition to these direct associations between parents’ personal investment and their children’s academic prospects is the impact of parental involvement on youths’ behavior. Adolescents whose parents talk with them about standards of sexual behavior and monitor their activities are less likely to become sexually active. Youths who report good relationships with their dads are less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana and are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior, and adolescents whose fathers are more involved are also less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. Likewise, teens who frequently have dinner with their families are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, which, in turn, impacts their prospects for school success.
Given that children’s success in school has significant impact on their future endeavors, policies should be designed to optimize parents’ involvement in their children’s education. For example, school choice would empower parents to be the decision makers in their children’s education and, in the words of one report, would move parents “from the margins to the center of their child’s academic development.”