Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 1
Parenting behaviors and learning of Singapore students: The mediational role of
Wenshu Luo*, Khin Maung Aye, David Hogan, Berinderjeet Kaur, and Melvin Chee Yeen Chan
Nanyang Technological University
This study examined the mediational role of achievement goals between parental behaviors
and learning outcomes. A sample of 1667 Singapore Secondary 3 students took the measures of
parental involvement in learning, parental control, mastery approach and avoidance goals,
performance approach and avoidance goals, as well as seven learning outcome variables in their
math study. We conducted complex structural equation modeling analysis to take into account
the hierarchical structure of the data and found a good fit for the hypothesized partial mediation
model. More specifically, parental involvement in learning was associated with an adaptive
learning profile (i.e., self-regulated engagement in learning activities, low anxiety, high
perceived competence, and high achievement), partially or mainly through its positive
relationship with mastery approach goals. Parental control predicted a maladaptive coping
orientation (i.e., low persistence and high anxiety) and low achievement partially through its
positive relationship with mastery and performance avoidance goals. The findings are discussed
in the academic context of Singapore.
Keywords: parental behaviors, achievement goals, learning
This is postprint (final draft post-refereeing) before publication. Please refer to the following
Luo, W., Aye, K. M., Hogan, D., Kaur, B., & Chan, M. C. Y. (2013). Parental behaviors and learning of
Singapore students: The mediational role of achievement goals. Motivation and Emotion, 37(2),
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 2
Achievement goal theory has been one of the most prominent frameworks to understand
students’ achievement motivation and learning profiles over the past 30 years. From a social
cognitive perspective, achievement goal researchers argue that achievement goals are important
lens to understand how environmental characteristics affect students’ motivation and learning.
This argument is largely supported by studies on achievement goals and school and classroom
environment (Ames, 1992; Kaplan, Middleton, Urdan, & Midgley, 2002; Luo, Hogan, & Paris,
2011; Maehr & Midgley, 1991; Meece, Anderman, & Anderman, 2006). However, the
influences of parenting practices on students’ goal orientations are only recently examined
(Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010; Friedel, Cortina, Turner, & Midgley, 2007; Kim, Schallert, & Kim,
2010). In this study we investigated the mediational role of achievement goals between parenting
behaviors and students’ learning. This study adds to the limited literature on the relation between
parenting practices and achievement goals, especially the four types of goals defined by the 2 × 2
achievement goal framework (Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Pintrich, 2000). It also provides a link
between research on the relationship of parenting behaviors to achievement goals and
achievement goals to learning outcomes. In addition, with Singapore secondary students as
participants, this study expands research on parenting, achievement goals, and learning to a non-
Achievement Goals and Learning
Early research on achievement goals distinguished between mastery goals, which focus on
learning and understanding, and performance goals, which focus on ability and performance
relative to others (e.g., Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Nicholls, 1984). Although the positive link
between mastery goals and academic performance has not been consistently found, the generally
positive learning patterns associated with mastery goals are reported in most studies (Ames, 1992;
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 3
Meece et al., 2006). While some studies found that performance goals were associated with
maladaptive learning patterns, such as anxiety, help-seeking avoidance, and self-handicapping
tactics (Midgley, Kaplan, & Middleton, 2001; Ryan & Pintrich, 1997), other studies reported that
performance goals could also be facilitative to learning. For example, positive relations were
found between performance goals and task values, graded performance, and academic self-
concept (Bong, 2001; Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, Carter, & Elliot, 2000; Pajares, Britner, &
To explain the inconsistent findings about performance goals, recently researchers
distinguished between two types of performance goals (Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot &
Harackiewicz, 1996), performance approach goals that focus on the demonstration of
competence relative to others, and performance avoidance goals that focus on avoiding
unfavorable judgments of ability or competence. Performance avoidance goals have been found
to be associated with low efficacy, high anxiety, self-handicapping strategies, and low grades
(Urdan, Ryan, Anderman, & Gheen, 2002). Pure performance approach goal orientation is
generally adaptive. For example, compared with performance avoidance goals, it has been
positively related to grades, competence beliefs, engagement, and use of learning strategies
(Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Lau & Nie, 2008; Liem, Lau, & Nie, 2008).
However, researchers have also suggested that performance approach goals are likely to
transform to performance avoidance goals when students are in the face of difficulties or the
likelihood of failure (Luo, Paris, Hogan, & Luo, 2011; Middleton, Kaplan, & Midgley, 2004).
More recently, the approach and avoidance distinction has also been made for mastery goals
(Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Pintrich, 2000). Individuals approaching an activity with mastery
approach goals make efforts to improve and develop their knowledge and skills, while students
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 4
approaching an activity with mastery avoidance goals are concerned about misunderstanding and
failing to learn well. A few studies measured mastery-avoidance goals and found that this
dimension was positively related to anxiety (Elliot & McGregor, 2001) and help-seeking threat
(Karabenick, 2003), negatively associated with intrinsic motivation and perceived competence
(Cury, Elliot, Da Fonseca, & Moller, 2006; Van Yperen, 2006), and not related to performance
(Elliot & Murayama, 2008; Yeo, Loft, Xiao, & Kiewitz, 2009). Based on these findings, mastery
avoidance goals were generally maladaptive. However, to improve our understanding of mastery
avoidance goals, more studies are still needed to examine how this dimension is empirically
different from the other three dimensions of achievement goals.
Parental Behaviors and Learning
Parents play a prominent role in shaping children’s development, including school related
outcomes. Building on previous work on parenting practice, Grolnick and Ryan (1989) found
that parental autonomy support or control and parental involvement are two important
dimensions for predicting children’s self-reports of autonomous self-regulation, teacher-rated
competence and adjustment, as well as school grades and achievement. Parental involvement
was conceptualized as the degree to which parents are interested in, knowledgeable about, and
take an active part in the child’s life. Parental autonomy support or control was defined as the
extent to which parents value and encourage children’s independent problem solving, choice, and
participation in decisions, rather than coerce their children to conform to their expectations
through punitive disciplinary practices.
From a self-determination perspective, empirical studies have shown that perceived parental
involvement and psychological autonomy support were associated with students’ learning and
well-being. For example, Chirkov and Ryan (2001) reported that in both the United States and
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 5
Russia, high school students’ perceived parental autonomy support predicted internal or
autonomous regulation in their academic work and psychological well-being. In addition, some
studies reported that motivation functioned as a mediator between parenting practices and
learning outcomes. For example, Grolnick, Ryan, and Deci (1991) examined a process model
between 3rd to 6th graders’ perceptions of these two dimensions of parenting practices, their
motivation and their performance in school. They found that the two maternal parenting
variables were positively associated with students’ perceived competence, control and autonomy
and in turn these three motivational variables were related to children’s performance. d'Ailly
(2003) reported that both maternal autonomy support and involvement predict children’s
perception of autonomy and control in Taiwan, and the perceived control positively predicted
diligence and academic achievement. In their study to examine whether autonomy is valued in
Eastern cultures, Vansteenkiste, Zhou, Lens, and Soenens (2005) reported that parental autonomy
support predicted adaptive learning strategies and well-being of Chinese studies, and these
effects were completely mediated by students’ perceived autonomy for studying.
Although achievement goals are important motivational factors for understanding
engagement and learning, the influences of parenting practices on students’ achievement goals
are only recently examined. In general, these studies reported that parental involvement and
autonomy support were associated with mastery goals, while parental control was related to
performance goals. For example, Gonzalez, Doan Holbein, and Quilter (2002) studied the
relationship between perceived parenting practices and mastery and performance approach goals
of high school students. They found that parent involvement (i.e., helping with homework,
attending school programs, attending extracurricular programs, helping select courses, and
knowledge of school progress) was positively correlated with mastery goal orientation. Maternal
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 6
authoritativeness (autonomy and explanations of rules) was related to mastery goal orientation,
while maternal authoritarianism (rules and forced obedience and compliance) and permissiveness
(little control and assistance) were related to performance goal orientation. Duchesne and Ratelle
(2010) reported that parental involvement in daily lives predicted mastery goals of adolescents,
whereas parental control predicted performance goals, and the latter was mediated by symptoms
of anxiety. Gurland and Grolnick (2005) also reported that controlling parenting was related to
performance goal orientations, while parental autonomy support was related to mastery goal
Very limited research has examined the mediational role of achievement goals between
parenting and learning. Some exceptions can be found with studies that investigated the effect of
parental goal emphasis on achievement goals and learning. For example, Friedel et al. (2007)
reported that seventh graders’ mastery and performance approach goals mediated the relations
between perceived parent and teacher achievement goal emphases and children’s efficacy beliefs
and coping strategies. Similarly, Gonida, Voulala, and Kiosseoglou (2009) found that mastery
goal orientation mediated the relationship of school mastery goal structure and parent mastery
goal emphasis to students’ behavioral and emotional engagement in their learning. Boon (2007)
reported both parental involvement and strictness/supervision were positively correlated with
mastery goals and self-efficacy, and negatively correlated with self-handicapping and the three
student variables mediated the relationship between parenting practices and achievement. At
least to our knowledge, no study has examined the mediational role of all the four types of
achievement goals based on the 2 × 2 achievement goal framework in the relationship between
parenting behaviors and learning outcomes.
Significance and Hypotheses of the Present Study
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 7
This study was designed to examine the mediational role of achievement goals between
parenting and learning outcomes of Singapore secondary students in their math study. In addition
to the four types of achievement goals based on the 2 × 2 achievement goal framework, we
measured two parenting dimensions—parental involvement in learning and parental control,
seven learning outcome variables—classroom engagement, homework engagement, meta-
cognitive self-regulation, effort regulation, math self-concept, math anxiety, and math
achievement, as well as two covariates—gender and previous math achievement. It should be
noted that in this study we measured parental involvement in students’ learning activities, rather
than general parental care or warmth. This is because learning is the main task of secondary
students and we believe that parental involvement in children’ learning should have more
immediate influence on students’ achievement motivation and learning than general parental
warmth or care.
This study expands research on parenting, achievement goals, and learning to Singapore, a
modernized Confucian country. It is well known that in the Confucian culture, parents, teachers,
and students all recognize the importance of effort and academic achievement (Hau & Salili,
1991; Salili, 1996). The cultural emphasis on effort exertion has pressured Chinese children to
study for long hours (Salili, Chiu, & Lai, 2001), and this might be one of the reasons why
students from Asian countries, such as Singapore, achieved high scores on international
assessment but also reported high anxiety and low confidence (Lee, 2009). In addition, the
education environment in Singapore is very competitive, even in primary schools. In a small
country with few natural resources, educational success is very important for the future success
of individuals as well as the nation (Liem et al., 2008; Luo, Paris et al., 2011). Therefore, it is
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 8
particularly interesting and meaningful to examine how achievement goals relate to parenting
practices and its role between parenting and learning.
Based on the literature, we test the hypothesized mediation model as described below. In
terms of the relationship between parenting behaviors and achievement goals, in accordance with
the general findings in the literature, we expected that parental involvement in learning would
predict positively mastery approach goals and parental control would predict positively
performance approach and avoidance goals (Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010; Gonzalez et al., 2002;
Gurland & Grolnick, 2005). Since in this study we measured parental involvement in children’s
learning, rather than general parental warmth or care, we expected that this dimension would also
predict positively students’ performance approach and avoidance goals. This is because by
involving in children’s learning activities, parents might also convey the message that they care
about the performance of their children relative to others, and this might be particularly true in
the very competitive academic context of Singapore. In addition, we hypothesized that parental
control would predict positively mastery avoidance goals. Controlling parents might coerce their
children to meet their expectations (Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010) and thus provoke the tendency of
their children to avoid not doing their best in their study.
In terms of the relationship between achievement goals and learning outcomes, based on
previous research findings, we hypothesized that mastery approach goals predicted all the seven
learning outcome variables in an adaptive way, and mastery avoidance goals would predict
positively math anxiety, and negatively effort regulation and math self-concept. In addition,
based on the general findings in previous studies (Elliot & Church, 1997; Lau & Nie, 2008; Liem
et al., 2008; Luo, Paris et al., 2011; Midgley et al., 2001; Urdan et al., 2002), we expected that
performance avoidance goals would have a negative effect on learning while performance
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 9
approach goals would have a generally positive effect on learning after performance avoidance
goals are controlled. More specifically, we hypothesized that performance avoidance goals
would predict positively math anxiety and negatively math achievement and effort regulation,
while performance approach goals would predict positively classroom engagement, homework
engagement, meta-cognitive self-regulation and math self-concept. Although some studies
(Barron & Harackiewicz, 2001; Harackiewicz, Barron, Carter, Lehto, & Elliot, 1997;
Harackiewicz et al., 2000) also reported positive relationship between performance approach
goals and performance, these findings were mainly reported for college students (Gonida et al.,
2009; Midgley et al., 2001). In addition, previous studies including our own (Elliot & Murayama,
2008; Luo, Hogan et al., 2011; Luo, Paris et al., 2011) often reported a moderate or high
correlation between performance approach and avoidance goals, thus we predicted that after
controlling for performance avoidance goals, performance approach goals would not predict
achievement in this study.
We expected that in general parental involvement in learning would be associated with a
positive learning profile, while parental control would be detrimental to learning. In addition, the
mediational role of achievement goals would explain at least part of the relationship between
parenting and learning, even after controlling for previous achievement and gender.
Participants and Procedure
This study was part of a large-scale research project that examined classroom practices in
Singapore schools and how these practices affect students’ learning. Schools were divided into
three strata based on their prior aggregate school achievement and 10 schools were randomly
selected from each stratum. Within each school, half of the Secondary 3 classes and within each
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 10
class half of the students were invited to participate in this study (Secondary class size is about
35 to 40 in Singapore. The other students were asked to take other measures of this project).
Participants in the same class were group administered an online survey first and then an online
math assessment in their computer laboratories with an interval of one to three weeks. The
average time for both the survey and assessment was about 40 minutes. There were 1667
students who took both the survey and assessment and 182 students who did not take the math
assessment after the survey. T test showed that they were not significantly different in their math
scores in Primary School Leaving Examination (t (1847) =.193, p = .85) and the 182 cases were
deleted in this study. The1667 students were from 113 classes of 30 schools (average number of
students per class = 14.75) and they included 879 (52.7%) boys and 788 (47.3%) girls, with an
average age of 14.93 (SD = .59). Ethnic composition was Chinese (1222, 73.3%), Malay (244,
14.6%), Indian (118, 7.1%), and others (83, 5.0%).
Achievement goals. The approach and avoidance components of mastery and performance
goals in learning mathematics were measured in this study. The scales employed to measure
mastery approach goals (3 items), performance approach goals (3 items), and performance
avoidance goals (3 items) were adapted from the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scale (Midgley
et al., 1998; Midgley et al., 2000). Since this instrument doesn’t include a scale to measure
mastery avoidance goals, we assessed this dimension (3 items) using items adapted from the
Achievement Goal Questionnaire (Elliot & McGregor, 2001). Mastery approach goals refer to
students’ orientations to learn new things and challenging ideas. Sample items include, “An
important reason I do my math work is that I like to learn new things,” and “I like the work in
my math class best when it challenges me to think.” Mastery avoidance goals refer to a striving
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 11
to avoid misunderstanding or failing to learn course material. Sample items are, “I’m worried
that I am not trying my best in my math lessons,” and “I’m afraid that I may not understand the
content of my math class thoroughly.” The performance approach goals scale assesses students’
desire to demonstrate high performance to teachers and students in their math class, such as “I
want to show my classmates in my math class that I am smart,” and “I like to show my teacher
that I am smarter than my classmates in my math class,” The performance avoidance goals scale
taps students’ orientations to avoid appearing incompetent in math in front of their classmates
and teachers, such as “I do my math work because I do not want the teacher to think that I am
stupid,” and “It is important that my classmates in my math class do not think I am stupid.” The
response categories of the four scales ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
The internal consistency reliabilities for mastery approach, mastery avoidance, performance
approach, and performance avoidance goals were .85, .80, .85, and .81, respectively.
Parenting behaviors. Two types of parental behaviors were measured in this study: parental
involvement in learning and parental control. Parental involvement in learning refers to the
extent to which our participants perceive their parents as responsive, supportive, and involved in
their learning. Based on existing measures in the literature (Gonzalez et al., 2002; Steinberg,
Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992), four items were designed to measure parental
involvement in learning: “My parents are willing to help me with my school work,” “I often
discuss my homework with my parents,” “My parents encourage me to participate in co-
curricular activities,” and “I often have discussions about major world events with my parents.”
Following Steinberg (Steinberg et al., 1992; Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991),
the parental control scale (four items) measures the extent to which parents employ coercive
discipline with their children. They are, “My parents say that I shouldn’t argue with adults,” “My
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 12
parents tell me that their ideas are correct and that I should not question them,” “My parents
don’t let me make my own plans for things I want to do,” and “My parents won’t agree with me
if I suggest doing something they don’t like.” Both parental dimensions were rated on a five-
point scale. The internal reliabilities were .77 and .74, respectively, for parental involvement in
learning and parental control.
Learning outcomes. In addition to achievement goals, seven learning-related variables were
measured in this study: classroom engagement, homework engagement, meta-cognitive self-
regulation, effort regulation, math self-concept, math anxiety, and math achievement.
The first six variables were measured by using self-reported scales. Adapted from the
Rochester Assessment Package for School-Students Report (Wellborn & Connell, 1987), the
class engagement scale (3 items) measures the extent to which students pay attention to activities
during their math class, such as “In my math class, I listen carefully when the teacher explains
something.” The 4-item homework engagement scale (adapted from VanDamme, Bieke, Van
Landeghem, Opdenakker, & Onghena, 2002) measures the extent to which students treat their
homework seriously and put effort in doing their homework, such as “I put much effort in my
math homework.” The meta-cognitive self-regulation scale (6 items), adapted from the Meta-
cognitive Awareness Inventory (Schraw & Dennison, 1994), taps the degree to which students
use planning, monitoring, and correcting activities in their study of math. Sample items are, “I
think about what I really need to learn before I begin a task,” and “I ask myself how well I am
doing while I am learning something new.” Adapted from Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, and
McKeachie (1993), the effort regulation scale (3 items) measures how well students controlled
their effort and attention in the face of difficult and boring tasks in math, such as “When the
work in math is difficult, I give up.” The items were reversely coded to obtain scores on effort
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 13
regulation. The scale of math self-concept adapted from the Program for International Student
Assessment (PISA, 2003) measures students’ perception of how good they are in learning math,
such as “I have always believed that math is one of my best subjects.” In addition, four items
adapted from PISA (2003) were used to measure students’ experienced anxiety in learning math,
such as, “I get very nervous answering math questions.”
All the six variables were rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale. The internal consistency
reliabilities were .87, .88, .86, .77, .89, and .83, respectively, for class engagement, homework
engagement, meta-cognitive self-regulation, effort regulation, math self-concept, and math
To measure math achievement of a large number of Secondary 3 students, an online
multiple-choice test was constructed by a small group of experienced teachers and researchers
with reference to the curriculum. The test included questions assessing students’ knowing,
applying, and reasoning abilities in four mathematics content areas, including Number, Algebra,
Measurement and Geometry, as well as Statistics and Probability. Through pilot testing and item
analysis, 28 items with good psychometric qualities that represented the proposed content and
cognitive domains were selected to measure math achievement in this study. In addition to the
current math achievement measured by this test, students were also asked to report their Primary
Leaving School Examination (PSLE) scores in math taken three years earlier. The PSLE math
scores ranged from 1 to 7, with higher scores indicating higher performance. As evidence of
convergent validity of the current math achievement test, students’ scores on it and on PSLE
math were correlated at .31.
We used structural equation modeling (SEM) approach to test the mediation model of
achievement goals based on the latent variables. Before the mediation model was tested, we
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 14
conducted three types of analyses to have a preliminary understanding of the data. First, we
examined the zero-order correlations among all the variables, including the two covariates,
gender and previous math achievement (PSLE math scores). Due to the relatively large sample
size in the present study, .01 was used as the criterion of statistical significance. As shown in
Table 1, gender had low correlations with some of the parenting, achievement goals, and
learning variables. In line with previous studies (Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010; Grolnick & Ryan,
1989), girls perceived their parents to be slightly less controlling. Girls were more likely to
endorse mastery avoidance goals, and less likely to have performance approach and avoidance
goals. This is generally consistent with previous research (e.g., Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010; Elliot
& Church, 1997; Luo, Paris et al., 2011) that found girls tended to be mastery-oriented and boys
tended to be performance-oriented. In addition, previous math achievement was also correlated
with performance approach and avoidance goals and both gender and previous math achievement
were related to some learning outcome variables. Therefore, the two covariates should be
controlled in order to examine the mediation model of achievement goals.
Second, we decomposed the variances of each variable across the three levels, student, class
and school. It can be seen from Table 2 that except for current and previous math achievement
all the other variables showed very little variance at school level (0-2%). In addition, only three
of the fourteen variables—math self-concept, current math achievement and previous math
achievement, had a total variance at class and school levels larger than 10%. In consideration of
(1) the relatively small variances at class and school levels in most of the variables, especially all
the parenting and achievement goal variables and (2) the complexity of the mediation model and
the large number of parameters to be estimated (15 variables and 50 indicators) relative to the
number of units at class (113) and school level (30), we focused our mediational analysis at
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 15
student level for simplicity purpose. However, we also think that it is necessary to take into
account the variances across classes and schools in some of the learning variables in order to
have more accurate standard errors (Krull & MacKinnon, 2001). Therefore, we conducted
complex SEM analysis by setting TYPE = COMPLEX and CLUSTER = Class (due to the nested
structure o f the data, the class level variance in the two level complex analysis includes the
variance from both classes and schools) in Mplus 5.2 to test the mediation model at student level.
In addition, the Maximum Likelihood Robust method was used to produce parameter estimates
with standard errors and chi-square test statistic that are robust to non-normality and non-
independence of observations (Muthén & Muthén, 2010).
Third, before the full mediation model was tested, a confirmatory factor analysis was
conducted to test the overall measurement model of all the 13 variables with multiple indicators,
including the two parenting variables, the four achievement goals, and the seven learning
outcomes. The 28 items of the achievement test were grouped according to the four content
domains, and consequently there were four composite indicators. There were totally 48 items
across the 13 factors, the number of items per factor ranging from 3 to 6. The hierarchical
structure of the data was also considered by setting TYPE = COMPLEX and CLUSTER = Class.
The measurement model had a good fit: X2 (1099) = 2815.88, p = .00, X2 /df = 2.56; Comparative
Fit Index (CFI) = .95; Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) = .94; Root Mean Square Error of
Approximation (RMSEA) = .031, 90% confidence interval (CI): .029 - .032; Standardized Root
Mean Square Residual (SRMR) = .044. The result of CFA provided support for the structural
validity of the 13 measured variables, which formed a basis for testing the full mediation model.
The mediational role of achievement goals was then tested with all the direct effects of the
two parenting variables on the seven learning variables controlled. In addition, we also
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 16
controlled for the predictive effect of both gender and previous math achievement on
achievement goals and the seven learning outcome variables. In addition, the residuals of the
four achievement goals were allowed to be correlated and the same to the seven learning
outcomes. This model had a good fit to the data: X2 (1085) = 2537.74, p = .00, X2 /df = 2.34; CFI
= .96; TLI = .95; RMSEA = .028, 90% CI: .027 - .030; SRMR = .039. Figure 1 shows the
significant paths as well as the percentages of explained variances in the resulting path model.
The total, direct, and indirect effects of parenting behaviors on learning are shown in Table
3. These effects were tested for statistical significance in Mplus 5.2 by dividing the estimates of
the effects by their standard errors which were calculated using the multivariate delta method
(see MacKinnon, 2008 for more details) and then comparing the ratios with critical values (z >
2.58 for p < .01) of the normal distribution (personal communication with Linda Muthén, 2011).
As shown in Figure 1, parental involvement in learning positively predicted mastery approach,
performance approach and performance avoidance goals. Parental control predicted mastery
avoidance, performance approach and avoidance goals. Mastery approach goals in turn predicted
all the seven variables in an adaptive way. Mastery avoidance goals predicted positively math
anxiety, and negatively effort regulation and math self-concept. Performance approach goals in
turn predicted positively math self-concept and meta-cognitive self-regulation. The hypothesized
predictive relationships from performance approach goals to classroom and homework
engagement were not significant. Performance avoidance goals predicted positively math anxiety
and negatively effort regulation and math achievement.
As shown in Table 3, parental involvement in learning predicted classroom engagement,
homework engagement, and meta-cognitive self-regulation in a positive way both directly and
through its positive relationship with mastery approach goals. In addition, parental involvement
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 17
in learning also predicted the other four variables in an adaptive way mainly through mastery
approach goals. As shown in Table 3, the mediating effects of performance approach and
avoidance goals between parental involvement and learning were very small or non-significant.
As shown in Table 3, parental control predicted effort regulation, math anxiety, and math
achievement in a maladaptive way, and the relationships were partially mediated by mastery and
performance avoidance goals. It is noteworthy that between parental control and math self-
concept, performance approach goals had a positive and mastery avoidance goals had a negative
meditating effect. Because one of the two mediators (i.e., performance approach goals) worked
as a suppressor and their effects cancelled each other out (MacKinnon, Krull, & Lockwood,
2000), the total effect was not significant (see Table 3).
This study was designed to examine the mediational role of achievement goals between
parenting behaviors and learning. In general, we found that the four types of achievement goals
based on the 2 × 2 achievement goal framework showed differential relationships with both
parenting practices and learning variables, and achievement goals partially mediated the
relationship between parenting practices and learning.
As hypothesized, parental involvement in learning was associated with a positive learning
profile partially due to its positive relationship with mastery approach goals. More specifically,
parental involvement was predictive of children’s active engagement and use of meta-cognitive
self-regulation strategies in their learning activities both directly and through the mediational role
of mastery approach goals. In addition, mainly through its association with mastery approach
goals, parental involvement was related to the tendency of children to make effort in the face of
challenges and difficulties in their study, achieve high grades, and have high self-concept and
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 18
low anxiety. The association between parental involvement in learning and a positive learning
profile is consistent with the findings from previous studies (Boon, 2007; d'Ailly, 2003;
Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010; Gonida et al., 2009; Gonzalez et al., 2002; Grolnick et al., 1991). The
mediational role of mastery approach goals between parental involvement and learning supports
the position that achievement goals are important lens to understand the relationships between
environmental characteristics, such as parenting practices, and learning (Ames, 1992; Friedel et
al., 2007; Maehr & Midgley, 1991; Meece et al., 2006) and also the well established conclusion
that students endorsing mastery approach goals tend to have adaptive learning profiles.
It should be noted that parental involvement in learning modestly predicted performance
approach and avoidance goals in this study. Rather than assessing general parental warmth and
responsiveness in their children’s daily life, parental involvement was specific to learning
activities in the present study. Although this finding was not consistently reported in previous
studies which measured parental involvement in learning (Gonzalez & Wolters, 2006; Gonzalez
et al., 2002), we argue that parental involvement in children’s learning activities might also elicit
children’s motivation to outperform peers. In other words, parents who concern about their
children’s learning may set normative standards for their children, such as a baseline grade or
rank in the classroom or school, which might encourage adolescents to set goals to outperform
and avoid looking inferior than others. This is particularly likely in the educational context of
Singapore where achievement examinations are critical for opportunities for further education
and success (Liem et al., 2008; Luo, Paris et al., 2011) and the traditional Confucian culture
values a high level of parental responsibility for promoting effort and success in the child (Chao,
1994). However, after controlling for mastery approach goals, the mediational effect of
performance goals was very small or non-significant.
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 19
Consistent with our hypothesis, parental control predicted performance approach goals and
both mastery and performance avoidance goals. The positive relationship between parental
control and performance approach goals is in line with previous studies (Duchesne & Ratelle,
2010; Gonzalez & Wolters, 2006; Gonzalez et al., 2002). The positive relationship between
parental control and the two avoidance goals is noteworthy. In the present study, we found the
mean level of mastery avoidance goals of Singapore students was almost as high as the mean of
mastery approach goals. In addition, consistent with previous studies in Singapore (Luo, Hogan
et al., 2011; Luo, Paris et al., 2011), performance approach and avoidance goals were highly
correlated with other, suggesting that Singapore students with performance approach goals also
tend to adopt performance avoidance goals at the same time. This avoidance tendency might be
related to the very competitive educational environment in Singapore (Luo, Paris et al., 2011).
In Singapore, educational success is crucial for the future success of individuals, and thus
children might develop excessive worries about their failure in schooling and thus endorse an
avoidance goal orientation. Parents also know well the importance of academic achievement to
the future of their children. Therefore, they might also tend to pressure children to meet their
expectations about schooling by coercing compliance and obedience and thus enhance
children’s avoidance tendency.
In general, parental control was associated to a negative learning profile partially through
the two avoidance goals. It predicted a maladaptive coping orientation (low effort regulation and
high anxiety) both directly and through mastery and performance avoidance goals, and it also
predicted negatively students’ achievement both directly and through performance avoidance
goals. Consistent with the findings with Chinese students (d'Ailly, 2003; Vansteenkiste et al.,
2005), the maladaptive learning profile associated with parental control in the Singapore context
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 20
support the position of the self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Deci & Ryan, 2002)
that social environments that promote autonomy are crucial for optimal learning in all cultures.
This is in contrast with the finding of Kim et al. (2010) in Korea that parental autonomy support
and parental control were modestly and positively correlated with each other and both positively
predicted autonomous regulation and mastery goal orientation. We suspect that this might be
partly related to the way that parental autonomy or control was operationalized across studies.
Many studies including the present one (d'Ailly, 2003; Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010; Grolnick et al.,
1991; Steinberg et al., 1992; Vansteenkiste et al., 2005) measured parental control as children’s
perceived coerciveness and intrusiveness from parents, sometimes called psychological control,
such as “My parents say I shouldn’t argue with adults” (Steinberg et al., 1992; Steinberg et al.,
1991) or “My father or mother is less friendly if I do not see things like he or she
does”(Vansteenkiste et al., 2005). This type of control is conceptually different from strictness
or supervision from parents—the level of monitoring and limit setting by parents, sometimes
called behavioral or firm control, such as “how much do your parents really know what you do
with your free time” (Gray & Steinberg, 1999; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch,
1991). Parental strictness or supervision has been found to be positively related to mastery goals
and academic performance, and negatively related to external behavioral problems (Boon, 2007;
Gray & Steinberg, 1999). In order to clarify the conceptual and empirical confusion about
parental control, Grolnick and Pomerantz (2009) suggested that only the former type of control
should be considered as parental control, while the latter frequently labeled control but
characterized mainly by guidance should be considered as parental structure. Although the two
dimensions were not differentiated in Kim et al. (2010), it is possible that the items used to
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 21
measure parental control, such as “My parents tell me exactly how to do my work”, might be
conceptually closer to parental structure than to parental control.
The differential relationships of the four types of achievement goals to learning variables
provide discriminant validity data for the 2 × 2 achievement goal framework. In general, we
found that mastery approach goals were most beneficial to learning, performance approach
goals were weakly associated with a positive learning profile when performance avoidance
goals were controlled, particularly self-concept and meta-cognitive regulation strategies, and
mastery avoidance and performance avoidance goals were generally related to a negative
learning profile. Although both mastery avoidance and performance avoidance goals
encompassed an avoidance tendency towards challenges and difficulties in study, the former
reflected an intrinsic anxiety about failure to learn and related to low self-concept, while the
latter reflected an extrinsic anxiety about demonstrating low competence relative to others and
related to low achievement.
The findings of this study have important implications for parents, school leaders, and
policy makers. Since parental involvement in a child’s education is an important mechanism
through which children are socialized for academic success, parents are encouraged to spend
more time assisting and supporting their children in their learning activities. In addition, schools
are also encouraged to provide better conditions to increase the levels of parental involvement
in school, such as through more effective communications with parents about their children’s
progress. In addition, as called for by Sternberg (2001), more public campaigns should be
launched to educate parents about children and adolescents’ development as well as how to
build more effective children-parents relationships. For example, in this study we found that it is
important for parents to accept their adolescent children’s needs for psychological autonomy so
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 22
that children will tend to develop a more healthy coping orientation in the face of difficulties in
their study. Parents should be taught how to provide appropriate autonomy support to their
This study has some limitations which should be taken into account when readers interpret
the findings. First, the proposed causal ordering among parenting, achievement goals and
learning outcomes cannot be justified by the cross-sectional nature of this study. The parenting
practices are interactive processes between parents and children. For example, if children have
themselves engaged in their own study, they may ask their parents to be frequently involved in
their learning activities at home, such as seeking help or having discussions with their parents,
which may further encourage the children to work harder in their study. Therefore, longitudinal
studies with more detailed observations should be conducted in order to understand the dynamic
interplay between parents and children. Second, the scale assessing mastery avoidance goals
adapted from the original Achievement Goal Questionnaire (Elliot & McGregor, 2001) contains
affective content (e.g., “I’m afraid . . .”). Although affect is implied when a person is committed
to the pursuit of any goals (Elliot & Murayama, 2008), explicit reference to affective content in
the goal items might to some extent confound the relationship between mastery avoidance goals
and the affective learning outcomes in this study. The affective content has been omitted in the
more recently revised AGQ-R (Elliot & Murayama, 2008). Third, the results of this study might
not be generalized to younger or older students, because the relative importance of these two
dimensions of parenting practices might change across age (Purdie, Carroll, & Roche, 2004). In
addition, this study examined the mediational role of achievement goals in the context of math
study. Future studies should investigate whether the findings can be generalized to other subject
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 23
This research was supported by the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice under a
Singapore Ministry of Education research grant. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions
expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the Centre or the
Singapore Ministry of Education. We are grateful to Scott G. Paris, Lazar Stankov, Alexander S.
Yeung, Yee Zher Sheng, Phillip A. Towndrow, Ridzuan Bin Abdul Rahim, Shun Lau, Youyan
Nie, Teck Kiang Tan, Siok Chen Loo, and Seoh Wah Cham for their contribution to this research.
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 24
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Descriptive Statistics and Correlations among Gender, Previous Math Achievement, Parenting, Achievement Goals, and Learning
M SD Range
2 Previous math achievement
3 Parental involvement in learning
4 Parental control
5 Mastery approach goals
6 Mastery avoidance
7 Performance approach
8 Performance avoidance
9 Classroom engagement
10 Homework engagement
11 Meta-cognitive self-regulation
12 Effort regulation
13 Math self-concept
14 Math anxiety
15 Math achievement
Note. Gender: 1 = male, 2 = female. * p < .01
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 32
Variance Decomposition across Student, Class and School Levels
Variance at student level
Variance at class level
Variance at school level
Parental involvement in learning
Previous math achievement
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 33
Standardized Total, Direct, and Indirect Effects through Achievement Goals
Parental involvement in learning
to Classroom engagement
to Homework engagement
to Meta-cognitive self-
to Effort regulation
to Math self-concept
to Math anxiety
to Math achievement
to Classroom engagement
to Homework engagement
to Meta-cognitive self-
to Effort regulation
to Math self-concept
to Math anxiety
to Math achievement
Note. * p < .01. Due to different sizes of standard errors, some smaller effects are significant while some
larger effects are not significant.
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning 34
Figure 1. The partial mediation model of achievement goals.
Note. The values in the parentheses are percentage explained variances. Only significant path
coefficients are reported. The correlations among the mediator disturbances are as follows: r
= .05 (p = .27) between mastery approach and mastery avoidance goals, r = .30 (p = .00)
between mastery approach and performance approach goals, r = .22 (p = .00) between mastery
avoidance and performance approach goals, r = .21 (p = .00) between mastery approach and
performance avoidance goals, r = .36 (p = .00) between mastery avoidance and performance
avoidance goals, and r = .85 (p = .00) between performance approach and avoidance goals.
Parenting, achievement goals, and learning Figure 1
(R2 = .10)
(R2 = .04)
(R2 = .53)
(R2 = .08)