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Three Key Factors That Help Kids Succeed

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by David Diehl, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

My older child will need to decide where she wants to go to middle school this winter. Although this is months away, it already seems like I get asked about this topic every time I walk out my door! I know she’s nervous about this choice, as well as the transition to a new, more demanding environment. As her parents, we want to make sure that we support her and help her to succeed, whatever school she eventually attends.

We all want our young students do well in school and life, but at times, it can be hard to figure out exactly how to guide them toward these goals. A recent large national survey looked into how some basic family choices, including parenting style and amount of screentime and family time, affected kids’ school success, emotional health, and sleep habits.

The Factors: Screentime, Family Time and Parenting Style

Over 20,000 parents (90% of whom were moms) of children in kindergarten through 12th grade were asked about their children’s grades in school, how much time they spent on homework and using screens, how well they focused, how long they took to fall asleep, and whether their child was generally emotionally healthy. To measure family time, parents were asked whether their families regularly had dinner together, played board games together, and/or went to religious services together. Finally, parents were asked questions to determine whether they tended to be more traditional and authoritarian, with a focus on coercion and punishment, or more empowerment-focused, with an emphasis on communication and choices.

Screens Can Have Major Effects on Grades

The amount of screentime kids got showed a strong connection to their grades in school. Children and teens who used screens between 1 and 30 minutes a day had the best GPAs—around a 3.5, in fact. Grades slowly started to decline around the 45-minute mark, with a steeper drop-off once kids got to a daily average of 2 hours. By the time children hit 2 to 4 hours of screentime a day, average GPAs were only 2.8. Higher-screen kids also took longer to fall asleep and had more emotional issues, according to their parents.

Time with the Family Has Big Pay-offs

As you might expect, spending more time together as a family was good for kids, improving grades and emotional well-being. Meanwhile, kids who spent less time in family activities were more likely to have trouble focusing, more emotional issues, and more trouble getting to sleep.

Parenting Style Matters

Finally, these researchers found that parents who were following a more traditional parenting approach, using strict discipline and punishment for poor behavior, were not getting good results. These children and teens had worse outcomes in just about every area, including school performance, emotional and social issues, and ability to concentrate. Meanwhile, parents whose styles focused more on positive reinforcement and communication were rewarded by children with higher grades and fewer emotional concerns.

Although this study relied on parents’ reports of their children’s behavior and didn’t control for factors like race and income, its very large sample size means that it offers some important data. Parents who’ve been working hard to limit screen time are likely to feel they’re making the right choice. If it’s been hard to find time for family activities, these results may motivate parents to increase family time together. As to the way we parent, most experts recommend a so-called “authoritative” parenting style, which combines sensible limit-setting and high expectations with positivity, warmth, and communication. To learn more about parenting styles, visit the resources in Further Reading.

(Photo credit: National Cancer Institute. Public domain.)

Further Reading:

Authoritative versus Authoritarian Parenting

Types of Parenting Styles and How to Identify Yours

TV and Kids: How to Cut Screen Time

Tips to Reduce Screen Time


Pressman, R. M., Owens, J. A., Evans, A. S., & Nemon, M. L. (2014). Examining the interface of family and personal traits, media, and academic imperatives using the Learning Habit Study. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 42, 347-363, doi:10.1080/01926187.2014.935684