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Parents Turn Teens to Math and Science

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Students studying


American schools do not produce enough scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to meet the needs of 21st century workplaces. 


With a little guidance, parents can increase how many advanced math and science classes their teenagers take.


Psychologist Judith Harackiewicz and her colleagues randomly assigned the parents of some 90 high school students to learn how to connect their children’s interests to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Participants in this parental involvement condition received two brochures in two years (their children’s 10th and 11th grades), as well as access to a website about how STEM relates to everyday life and their children’s career opportunities.

In the control condition, parents of another 90 students did not receive the brochures or website access.

The researchers found that students whose parents were in the parental involvement condition took an extra semester of advanced math and science classes during the last two years of high school, as compared to students whose parents were in the control condition. Parents played a pivotal role in these teens’ heftier STEM courseloads; they talked more with their teens about course choices, educational plans, and the relevance of math and science than did parents in the control condition. 

Why This Works

Many students do not understand how STEM relates to their current and future goals. Although high-schoolers may seem impervious to parental influence, parents can indeed help their teenagers link STEM to their own lives and increase the number of STEM classes their children take.

When This Works Best

Teenagers who do not already understand the value of math and science for their future lives will benefit most from this intervention.

Original Study

Harackiewicz, J. M., Rozek, C. S., Hulleman, C. S., & Hyde, J. S. (2012). Helping parents to motivate adolescents in mathematics and science: An experimental test of a utility-value intervention. Psychological Science, 23(8), 899-906.

In the Media


Research Digest for Psychiatry Fun Blog

See Also

Hulleman, C. S., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2009). Promoting interest and performance in high school science classes. Science, 326 (5958), 1410-1412.

Related Topics

Education Parenting


Photo CC by Francisco Osorio