Considering the less favorable academic performance and high school dropout rates of Latino youth in the U.S. (National Center for Educational Statistics, NCES, 2008), there is significant interest in promoting the academic achievement and success of Latino youth. Individual characteristics such as discipline and motivation do contribute to adolescents' academic success, but research points to the critical role of family members and parents on the academic achievement of Latino youth (Alfaro, Umaña-Taylor, & Bámaca, 2006; Anguiano-Viramontez, 2004; Ceballo, 2004).

Many Schools Believe Latino Parents Are Not Helping Their Children Academically

National statistics (NCES, 2003) indicate that Latino parents are less likely than white parents to attend general meetings, school events, participate in school committees, or volunteer. In the United States, these activities are recognized as common forms of parental involvement (Campos, 2008; Kupermic, Darnell, & Alvarez-Jimenez, 2008). Therefore, there is a widespread belief among school administrators and teachers that Latino parents are not involved in their children's academic activities and do not care about their children's academic success (Campos, 2008).
Contrary to this depiction, recent work with Latino families has shown that Latino parents do care about and believe in the importance of formal education. Latino parents are involved in their children's academics, but their involvement typically goes unrecognized by school personnel because of its less typical nature (Campos, 2008).

Latino Parents Support Education in Non-Traditional Ways

In general, Latino parents promote their children's academics by:
  • Placing a high value on education.
  • Motivating their children to do well academically.
  • Monitoring or "keeping an eye" on them.
  • Providing emotional support for academic endeavors (Ceballo, 2004; Romo & Falbo, 1996).
  • Encouraging and motivating their children via narratives of the hardships that the family has experienced (Lopez, 2001; Villanueva, 1996).
  • Emphasizing the importance of education as a way out of manual labor.
  • Excusing them from doing chores, keeping other siblings quiet while doing homework, or expressing pride for their academic success (Ceballo, 2004).

Barriers and Challenges to Latino Parents' Engagement In Youth Academics

Studies with Latino families have revealed that these parents face a number of barriers and challenges that prevents their involvement in their children's school and educational activities.
  1. Latino Parents often lack knowledge of the U.S. educational system and the expectations of school personnel.
  2. Recent immigrant parents are often unfamiliar with how to navigate the U.S. educational system (Ceballo, 2004).This may be one reason why Latino parents do not feel confident in their ability to help their children (Okagaki & Frensch, 1998). The lack of familiarity with the school system hinders parents' abilities to provide academic support and advocate for their youth's academics (Romo & Falbo, 1996).
  3. Latino Parents often lack time due to having multiple jobs or working long hours.
  4. The exposure to long working hours forces parents to spend less time with their children, limiting the attention they can give to their children's academic success (Parra-Cardona, Cordova, Holtrop, Villarruel, & Wielding, 2008).
  5. Latino Parents often have limited English proficiency.

Recommendations For Latino Parents to Help Children Succeed In School

Studies consistently find that Latino youth value and benefit from the involvement and interest parents demonstrate. However, Latino parents may feel that the support they offer is not enough to help their youth succeed academically. Despite the many barriers and challenges Latino parents may face, there are things parents can do to let adolescents know that they care about their academic success.
  • Emphasize the value of education because your children are listening. It may not be obvious that your child is paying attention, but children value parents' opinion. If the importance of education is instilled early on, your children will know the expectations you have for them in terms of completing their education.
  • Provide moral encouragement and emotional support. You may not be able to help your children with their homework or their college applications, but children appreciate the support and encouragement they receive from their parents.
  • Provide your children with a quiet place to study. If your family lives in a one-bedroom apartment, monitor the noise level of other family members or assigning the bedroom as the study room.
  • Express pride in their work. Celebrate their achievement no matter how small they may seem. For instance, if your child did not get a good grade on a spelling test one week, but is able to receive a passing grade the following week-celebrate!
  • Keep an eye on your children's activities. When parents monitor adolescents' school work, school attendance, and other school related activities, adolescents may perceive their parents as having a higher value of academics. Latino adolescents who perceive their parents as "keeping an eye on them" have been found to be more likely to succeed in school and not to drop out (Romo & Falbo, 1996).
  • Become more involved in school activities. Many schools have programs to help ethnic minority parents navigate the school system that their children attend. It may be intimidating, but many schools want and have programs specifically targeted to promote the involvement of ethnic minority parents.

References

Alfaro, E. A., Umaña-Taylor, A. J., &Bámaca,M.Y. (2006). Interpersonal support and Latino adolescents' academic motivation. Family Relations, 55, 279-291.

Campos, R. (2008). Considerations for studying father involvement in early childhood among Latino families. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 30, 133-160.

Ceballo, R. (2004). From barrios to Yale: The role of parenting strategies in Latino families. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 26, 171-186.

Lopez, G. R. (2001). The value of hard work: Lessons on parent involvement from an (im)migrant household. Harvard Educational Review, 71, 416-437.

Kuperminc, G. P., Darnell, A. J., & Alvarez-Jimenez, A. (2007). Parent involvement in the academic adjustment of Latino middle and high school youth: teacher expectations and school belonging as mediators. Journal of Adolescence, 31, 469-483.

National Center for Education Statistics (2003). Status and Trends in the Education of Hispanics (NCES 2003-008). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Available 2003. Downloaded 2/1/09 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/2003008.pdf

National Center for Education Statistics (2008). The Condition of Education 2008 (NCES 2008-031). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Available 2008. Downloaded 2/1/09 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/2008031.pdf

Okagaki, L., & Frensch, P. A. (1998). Parenting and children's school achievement: A multi ethnic perspective. American Educational Research Journal, 35(1), 123-144.

Parra-Cardona, J.R., Córdova, D., Holtrop, K., Villarruel, F.A., & Wieling, E. (2008). Shared ancestry, evolving stories: Similar and contrasting life experiences described by foreign born and U.S. born Latino parents. Family Process, 47, 157-172.

Romo, H. D., & Falbo, T. (1996). Latino high school graduation: Defying the odds. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Villanueva, I. (1996). Change in the educational life of Chicano families across three generations. Education and Urban Society, 29, 13-34.

Viramontez-Anguiano, R.P. (2004). Families and Schools: The effect of parental involvement on High School Completion, Journal of Family Issues, 25, 61-85.