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How Latino Parents Can Help Children Succeed in School

By — Diversity in Education Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

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.
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