Supporting Kids Through Academic Changes Can Boost Well-Being, Self-Esteem

When parents support the independence of their children through educational transitions, they tend to develop greater well-being and self-esteem and have a reduced risk of depression, according to a new study by researchers at the Academy of Finland.

These findings apply to all of a student’s major academic transitions: from primary school to middle school, from middle school to high school, and from high school to university. The positive effects increased with the age of the child.

Parents can help encourage their child’s autonomy by giving them greater choices over their educational goals, providing plenty of flexibility within a structured environment, and by setting up their environment for success, such as encouraging the children to keep their homework space clean, equipped, and organized.

The researchers point out that autonomy support provided by moms and dads prevented depression during all three transitions and increased the self-esteem of young people in the final two transitions.

An important finding is that the positive effects of autonomy support tend to increase as the child gets older. “In the past, it was thought that parents only play an important role during childhood, but this research demonstrates their importance during adolescence and even young adulthood,” said Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro.

For a long time, the importance of self-regulation was emphasized only in connection with overall well-being and success in life. However, the new findings suggest that parents and children continue to have a strong and interactive, regulative effect on each other’s well-being.

For example, parenting affects youngsters’ well-being, but the well-being of young people also affects that of their parents. In fact, young people play a greater role in affecting parental support for their autonomy than previously thought: When children begin to do less well, parents tend to step in and take over, essentially providing less support for their children’s independence.

“However, from the perspective of young peoples’ well-being, it would be important for parents to provide more support in such cases, because autonomy support has been shown to reduce depression,” said Salmela-Aro.

The study involved 2,000 Finnish young people, whose educational paths and well-being were tracked by the researchers during all educational transitions.

The research was conducted with the help of the LEAD project under the Future of Learning, Knowledge, and Skills Academy program and the Mind the Gap cross-disciplinary study under the Human Mind Academy program.

Source: Academy of Finland