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Parental Expectations as a Key Factor in Success

The Davidson College Human Centered Design Fellows completed an informational interview with a successful adult who grew up in a low-income community. The informant told us that one of the biggest factors in her success was her parents' belief that she would be successful.

Photo of Claire Gutermuth
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We asked a successful adult about her experiences growing up in a low-income community. One of the most striking things she talked about was the role of her parents' expectations on her life path. Our key insight:

Parental expectations early in life have a powerful and lasting impact on a child's trajectory as an adult.

When asked about her brother and sister, our informant said, "Our parents expected that both my siblings would work in the restaurant. My brother would inherit the family business and my sister would maybe go to community college and then have an arranged marriage...I think this shaped their futures and they did not see themselves as successful. They did not have the same sense of confidence... When you grow up with your own parents believing this is your future, you start to believe that this is all you will ever be."

She continued, "When I started growing up, my parents realized there were more opportunities to help. My teachers were also very helpful because they saw I could be more than a restaraunt kid."

Countless studies have demonstrated the powerful effect of teachers' expectations on student achievement. According to our insight, the same can be true for parents. 

How can we help parents define success in a way that is practical yet offers their children many opportunities? How can we encourage parents to set high expectations for their children? What does the encouragement of many opportunities look like?

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Photo of G. Quinque

We really like your idea Claire! We believe that there are also a lot of studies about Parental Expectations' effect on children. But just to add some insight for you, we think while parental beliefs also have the potential to negatively influence children's perception of themselves, particularly if the parents’ wishes are not congruent with the children’s. There is one interesting article here http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201003/adolescence-and-the-problem-parental-expectations

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