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J Adolesc Health. 2019 Jun;64(6):783-789. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.11.015. Epub 2019 Jan 26.

Academic Expectations and Mental Health in Adolescence: A Longitudinal Study Involving Parents' and Their Children's Perspectives.

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Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. Electronic address:
Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; Centre for Epidemiology and Community Medicine (CES), Stockholm County Council, Stockholm, Sweden.



We investigated parental academic expectations and their agreement with child expectations as predictors of offspring's mental health. We additionally analyzed whether these associations were moderated by parent-child relationship factors and whether similar associations were found when using aspirations as the predictor.


Dyads of parents and children (aged 13 years) in Sweden answered three annual surveys asking how far in education parents (or their children) expected to go (respondents' wave 1: N = 3,383, wave 2: N = 3,096, wave 3: N = 2,905). Children's mental health was measured using the internalizing and externalizing subscales of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Multilevel logistic models for repeated measures were built to analyze the associations between parental expectations or the concordance of parent and child expectations and child's high internalizing (>9) or externalizing (>11) score in waves 2 and 3.


Parental expectations lower than university were associated with an increased odds of offspring's high externalizing score (adjusted odds ratio: 1.49, 95% confidence interval: 1.11-2.01). The odds of high externalizing score were increased among adolescents when either the parent's or own expectations were lower than university compared with the situation where both expected a university education; there was a more than twofold increased odds when both had low expectations (odds ratio: 2.32, 95% confidence interval: 1.55-3.48). No significant associations were found with internalizing problems. There was some evidence of moderation according to democratic parenting. All associations were similar when considering academic aspirations.


Low academic expectations among parents and their children may negatively impact on children's externalizing symptoms.


Academic aspirations; Academic expectations; Adolescence; Education; Externalizing problems; Internalizing problems; Mental health; Parental expectations; Public health

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