Your Parents Might Be Why You Hate Math So Much

Amanda Chan
·Deputy Editor

Do you feel the same way as Leslie Knope in “Parks and Recreation”? (GIF: tyrells.tumblr.com)

If you consider yourself a card-carrying math-hater, ask yourself this: Did your parents also hate math? And if so, did they try to help you with your homework when you grew up?

According to a new study, your parents’ math anxiety may have rubbed off on you.

“We often don’t think about how important parents’ own attitudes are in determining their children’s academic achievement,” study researcher Sian Beilock, a psychological scientist at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. “But our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying ‘Oh, I don’t like math’ or ‘This stuff makes me nervous,’ kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success.”

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, included 438 first- and second-graders. Researchers assessed their anxiety and achievement regarding math and reading at the beginning and end of the school year. The children’s parents also filled out a questionnaire about how anxious they were about math, as well as how often they helped their kids with their homework.

Sure enough, the researchers found that math-anxious parents were more likely to have kids who were also math-anxious and who learned less math over the course of the school year —“but only if math-anxious parents report providing frequent help with math homework,” the researchers wrote in the study.

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Researchers did not find an association between parents’ math anxiety and the children’s reading achievement — meaning the math anxiety was specific to the subject.

“Previous research has shown that individuals with high math anxiety often express a variety of poor attitudes about math. They tend to believe that math is not useful and have low math self-efficacy and low motivation to succeed in math,” the study said. “Expressing these beliefs could be demotivating to children, likely reducing the amount of effort they invest in math and reducing the amount of math they learn and remember. As a result of learning less math, these children may then become more math anxious.”

While it seems like parental involvement in their kids’ schoolwork can only be a good thing, math-anxious parents’ “homework help may backfire,” the researchers wrote in the study.

What do you think of the findings? Did your parents’ feelings toward math shape how you feel about the subject? Tell us in the comments!

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