How much do parents really affect their children’s success?


At my Student Success Project presentations, I’m usually asked three questions involving how much of an impact we play in pointing our kids toward success.

1. How much influence do parents truly have in their kid’s success?
2. How much of a role do we really play in their lives as they grow up? This question is ridiculous because our parents impact our lives forever (trust me I know.)
3. What can I do now to help them be the best that they can be and how much do I have to surrender and give up to get there?

I argue that parents needlessly inflate the sacrifice they need to make to help their kids. In particular, modern parents greatly overestimate the effect of “investment” of time and money on their kids’ future, leading to a lot of painful and fruitless parenting.

I tell parents to cut back on the parenting aspect of being a parent and focus on having fun together. I also argue that parents focus too much on their short-run effort and too little on long-run satisfaction.

Some say the costs of kids are “front-loaded” and a lot of the benefits come later in life. Wise parents will take their whole future into account when deciding what success really should be.

We’re constantly trying to figure out what our kid’s success will be. We hope they end up being smart, responsible, kind and positive contributors to society who find real success in, of all places, love and happiness. But at some point we all realize that our parenting probably will not make a major difference, and most importantly we also know we can’t make them live what we ideally deem a successful life.

I mean think about it, why do you think we have such high hopes for our kid’s success when in reality we know we can only control so much?

The “feelings” of parenting is much larger in the short-run than the long run. Since the short-run is very visible, parents naturally imagine they’re putting their kids on the right course for life, when the reality is that they’re just temporarily moving kids off their long-run trajectories.

Parents picture kids as clay they mold for life, when they’re actually more like flexible plastic that responds to pressure, but pops back into its original shape when the pressure is released.

The expectations parents hold for their kids have a huge effect on attainment. Parents who see college in their child’s future seem to manage their success toward that goal irrespective of their income and other assets. This falls in line with the Pygmalion effect, which states, “that what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Value effort over avoiding failure. Where kids think success comes from also predicts their attainment. See failure not as evidence of un-intelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching their existing abilities.

Teach your kids social skills. There is a significant correlation between social skills as kindergartners and their success as adults.

Studies showed that socially competent children who could cooperate with their peers without prompting, be helpful to others, understand their feelings, and resolve problems on their own, were far more likely to earn a college degree.

So what should we do as parents to get the most successful outcome for our children?

That’s easy – accept that their future depends chiefly on him or her. And even easier – focus instead on enjoying today, and building a loving relationship.

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, founder of The Student Success Project and previously Think Factory Marketing. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or via email at, and on Facebook and YouTube as The Student Success Project.

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