An analysis of the data from a large study of German twins (TwinLife) found no support for the notion that parental control, parental activities and extracurricular activities affect the development of noncognitive skills of early adolescents (10-14 years of age). Authors considered six non-cognitive skills including the motivation to attend school, to learn, education-related skills, self-efficacy, self-esteem and how much control the adolescent believes he/she has over his/her own life. The paper was published in Acta Sociologica.
Parenting is generally seen as a major channel through which parents affect child development. Researchers distinguish two aspects of parenting – parenting styles and parental and extracurricular activities. Parental styles create the emotional climate in which family interactions between children and parents take place. They are unique combinations of emotional warmth and control that parents apply.
Researchers tend to see the parenting style that is defined by high levels of both warmth and control, the so-called “authoritative parenting style” as better for child development than other combinations of these aspects. Parental activities refer to behaviors that parents engage in with their children in the hopes of positively affecting their development. Certain extracurricular activities are also seen as contributing to the development of noncognitive skills.
Previous studies have provided much support for the assumption that parenting affects skill development in early childhood. This was especially the case for children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. However, much of these studies are designed in a way that does not allow cause-and-effect conclusions and not many studies have examined the effects of parenting on early adolescents.
To study the effects of parenting on early adolescents, professor Michael Grätz from the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and his colleagues analyzed a part of data from TwinLIfe, a large German panel of twins and their families. They used data from two timepoints that were available – one from 2014/2015 and the other from 2016/2017. Data they analyzed were collected from 756 pairs of twins who were between 10 and 12 years of age in 2014/2015, at the time of the first data collection.
Researchers analyzed data on six noncognitive skills that they considered relevant for educational attainment and further life chances. These included children’s academic self-concept (self-assessment of their education-related skills), intrinsic motivation to attend school (how much children are motivated to attend school on their own, without external incentives), learning motivation, self-efficacy (the degree to which children believe that they can accomplish their goals), self-esteem (their belief to be a valuable person), and locus of control (children’s assessment of how much control they have over their lives).
They also considered data on parental styles, defined as degrees of warmth and control exercised by the parents and parental activities, an indicator of how often family members conduct activities with their children like singing, reading or visiting exhibitions per month. Extracurricular activities were assessed similarly, as the frequency of such activities per month.
The researchers took into account whether the twins are monozygotic or dizygotic, in order to control for the effects of genetic variation. They considered the intelligence of children as a control (Culture Fair Intelligence Test, CFT-20R).
“We find small positive effects of parental warmth on learning motivation, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and locus of control for DZ twins, and on academic self-concept, intrinsic motivation, and self-efficacy for MZ twins. The strongest effect for DZ twins is found on self-esteem, and for MZ twins on self-efficacy”, authors report.
They note, however, that the pattern is not consistent across different skills analyzed. Notably, when researchers controlled for intelligence, birth weight and prior noncognitive skills, all effects of warmth disappeared save for the effect on self-esteem of dizygotic twins. The study authors conclude that “results suggest that parenting styles do not affect noncognitive skills in early adolescence”.
Parental control had no appreciable effects and there were also no specific effects attributable to any particular combinations of control and warmth, i.e., parenting styles. Neither parental activities nor extracurricular activities had any effect on studied noncognitive skills.
The study authors note that an important limitation of their study is that it only relies on the variation in parenting within families. Differences in parenting styles between families might have much stronger effects on child development. There are also certain limitations to how much conclusions derived from the study of twins can be generalized. Due to this, results obtained on other groups of children and from different countries might be different.
The study, “The effects of parenting on early adolescents’ noncognitive skills: Evidence from a sample of twins in Germany“, was authored by Michael Grätz, Volker Lang, and Martin Diewald.