A study says parents are trying to take control of their child’s academic pursuits. Experts explain why that can cause issues.

It’s been a rough go for children academically over the last few years—from pandemic switches to virtual learning and the continued fallout. A survey of more than 3,000 parents by Test Prep Insight indicates parents are trying to take control of the situation by becoming stricter about academic success.1

The survey shows 49% of parents say they are giving their children shorter leashes because of anxiety about their children’s future abilities to navigate a job market. About 20% parents reported being focused on educational attainment. Many parents also mention that technological and AI developments are impacting their choices.1

“This research shines a light on something that’s become a hot topic: How parents are responding to the fast-paced changes in technology and the unpredictability of the job market by doubling down on their kids’ education,” explains Katie Dorn, MA, LSC, MFT, a licensed K-12 school counselor and the founding partner of EmpowerU, a tech-based platform focused on delivering mental health support to schools in the United States.

Dorn fundamentally believes parents are taking this strict approach out of love and concern. “As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to ensure your child is set up for success, especially when it feels like the world is changing at breakneck speed, and prepare your child for jobs that may not even exist yet,” says Dorn.

But she’s worried about its effectiveness, particularly in the long-term. “A critical piece of the puzzle sometimes gets overlooked in the rush to prepare our kids academically, and that is teaching them how to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks,” adds Dorn.

How can parents balance the desire to help their children succeed with the benefits of letting them fail? To help, experts weigh in on various parenting strategies and how they may help or limit their abilities to thrive.

How Does Parenting Style Affect Academic Performance?

Our ideas about what makes an effective parent started long before our little ones came into our lives; they began when we were infants.

“We either attempt to parent based on how we were parented or choose to parent in the exact opposite manner of what was role-modeled to us,” says Regine Muradian, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist.

Parenting styles can become generalized, especially on social media. But psychologist Diana Baumrind introduced three main types of parenting styles in the 1960s: authoritarianauthoritative, and permissive. Researchers later added a fourth: neglectful or uninvolved parenting, where a caregiver barely participates in any aspect of parenting.

Experts share how the original three look like in the context of academics.

  • Authoritative. Dorn likens this parenting style to being a coach rather than a dictator. “It’s all about setting clear goals, being supportive, and listening to your kid’s side of things,” she says. “You’re there to guide and support them, not control every move they make.”
  • Authoritarian. It sounds like authoritative, but this style is “very different,” says Daniel Rinaldi, MA, therapist and founder of MNTL Town, a platform teaching kids life skills and emotional growth. “Authoritarian parents tend to have a strong emphasis on control and authority, relying on punishment rather than positive reinforcement to enforce compliance.”
  • Permissive. Dr. Muradian says these parents are sometimes considered the “cool” parents or their child’s best friend. They’re non-punitive and affirmative but lack boundaries.

Full disclosure: the Test Prep Insight survey jumped between using the words authoritarian and authoritative, and they did not respond to emails to clarify. But again, these terms are different.

Is Strict Parenting Effective When It Comes to Education?

Experts say permissive parenting is rarely helpful when it comes to pushing kids toward success. That’s because children do need clear expectations as they grow at their own pace.

“The absence of boundaries and expectations can hinder their ability to learn important life lessons necessary for adulthood,” says Dr. Muradian. “For instance, as young adults, they may struggle with following rules, exhibit passive aggressiveness, feel defensive in certain situations, have difficulty forming meaningful relationships, and struggle to establish their true identity and sense of self.”

So, what is the line between “too strict” and “not strict enough?” Dorn knows it can be a challenging one to determine. “With everything changing so fast, especially with jobs and technology, some parents may feel like they need to steer the ship more tightly to make sure their kids end up OK,” explains Dorn. “It’s coming from a place of love and worry, but it’s a tightrope walk.”

However, it’s crucial to try to find that balance. That means trying to avoid authoritarian parenting in education, which can have unintended consequences. Those include “hindering children’s autonomy, creativity, and motivation to learn,” Rinaldi says, adding, “As a therapist who works with children and families, I like to encourage parents to find a balance between structure and flexibility in their approach to education, fostering open communication, mutual respect, and a supportive environment that promotes both academic success and emotional well-being.”

Enter authoritative parenting, which is Dr. Muradian’s preferred approach. It has clear expectations and boundaries and values the child’s thoughts and feelings.

“Through ongoing communication, the child learns not only what is right and wrong but also the rationale behind rules and consequences,” Dr. Muradian says. “This approach fosters a sense of understanding and mutual respect between parent and child. In school, children raised in an authoritative environment are more likely to feel confident sharing their thoughts and beliefs and initiating conversations, as they feel supported and validated in expressing themselves.”

How To Help Your Child Succeed Academically 

While every child is different, experts say these tips can help your kid navigate academic life without hindering them long-term.

Customize your approach

Parenting styles often put people in boxes. Break free.

“When it comes to approaching education, I recommend parents take a balanced and flexible approach that respects their child’s individual needs and learning style, and I want to validate that this may take some time to learn as a parent,” Rinaldi says. “It’s important for parents to be engaged and supportive, providing encouragement, resources, and guidance as needed.”

Focus on coming up with solutions together

It can be tempting to take a child’s phone away if they failed a math test or change their RSVP to a pal’s party to “no.” However, Dr. Muradian suggests a two-way conversation.

“Instead of resorting to authoritarian tactics like punishment or yelling when a child fails a test, it’s more effective to support them in finding ways to improve,” she says.

If they get a low grade, for example, Dr. Muradian suggests engaging in constructive dialogue. That means, asking questions like, “How do you feel about your grade? What strategies can you employ to do better next time?”

“When children feel heard and understood, they become motivated to strive for improvement,” adds Dr. Muradian.

Embrace failure

The memory of the poor grade will likely be fleeting. However, the lessons learned from failure stick with a child long-term.

“Success often emerges from setbacks, and it’s crucial to convey to our children that failures are valuable learning experiences,” Dr. Muradian says. “We need to walk alongside them, offering guidance through life’s challenges. They should feel empowered to make their own choices regarding their education and activities, knowing that our support is unwavering.”

Dr. Muradian says this approach creates a safe space for children to feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions constructively.

Manage conflicts in a healthy way

Respectful, healthy parent-child relationships will have conflicts, too. In these distressing moments, it is key to lean into the foundation of that relationship.

“When conflicts arise, it’s essential to encourage open communication and respect their opinions rather than dismissing their feelings,” Dr. Muradian says. “Saying, ‘I’m here to listen’ can go a long way in nurturing a healthy parent-child relationship. While it’s OK to set boundaries and say no, it’s equally important to validate their emotions and encourage them to express themselves freely.”

For instance, a child can be upset that—after a two-way conversation—you feel it’s best to continue to see an English tutor, even if your decision is final.

Intervene when necessary

While ideally, a child will troubleshoot on their own (and yes, fail in the process), with less and less adult involvement as they develop, sometimes it’s essential for caregivers to step in.

“Intervene when you notice your child struggling academically or emotionally, but also allow them space to navigate challenges and learn from their mistakes,” Rinaldi says. “Ultimately, the goal is to strike a balance between support and autonomy, empowering children to become self-directed learners and confident individuals.”